Cuba is a very particular country with intense history. In some aspects Cuba can be seen as rich: education and health care are provided for free for everyone. In other ways Cuba can be perceived as poor: lack of housing or food for example. But who is to blame for this? Is it Fidel Castro’s dictatorship or the embargo imposed by the USA? It is just impossible to look at Cuba without taking in account this blockade that has been so impactful on life in Cuba. Especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union – on whom Cuba heavily relied – Cubans had a really difficult time.
All this boycotting resulted in a very creative and resourceful “Cuban” mindset. These events pushed Cuba into some kind of awkward “accidental sustainability”, because they always had to fend for themselves. Out of necessity, they became experts in DIY’ing for everything. Cars are forever repaired, reused and shared among the people. A typical taxi, called “almendron”, does not just take one person at a time, but picks up everyone along the road if there is space in the car left. Those cars are still the same cars from decades ago, that the Cubans still manage to keep running. Cuba is currently building up quite some momentum. Changes are happening regarding housing and businesses. Since 2011 it is allowed to own a small private business and this has had quite some impact on the streetscape: many Cubans are trying to find ways to earn more money and open a “cafetaria” or repair shop. Together with recent changes towards foreign policy, ownership laws, cooperative structures and the booming of tourism, Cuba finds itself in a very dynamic situation right now.
“Collective Patchwork, Patchwork of Collectivity” is an urban architectural strategy for community empowerment and self-managed regeneration of a deteriorating neighborhood in Havana: El Cerro. The project looks for a way in which the local community can benefit from the current dynamic and complex political, cultural and social climate in Cuba and how an architectural intervention can contribute to enhance the energy, resourcefulness and entrepreneurship of the Cubans as a power to spark development and life in their own neighborhood. The design proposes 5 phases in which a material production center, cooperative housing, a commons center, polyvalent workshops, tool rental and start up- and commercial spaces are established, step by step. Each step of the design should be an investment, not just an expense. Both the process leading up to the construction and the activity of building are an important part of the impact of the eventual built outcome. Producing (eco)materials, establishing cooperatives and local worker groups (microbrigades), participatory planning and designing, education and self-constructing become part of the architecture. Giving people the possibility and responsibility to build, adapt and upgrade their own neighborhood activates the neighborhood and enables the possibility of progress. The design strategy aims to become self-manageable after a while and to contribute to a more sustainable future.