Speculative Cuba

  • Justin Hazelwood, M.Arch. 2017
  • Hometown Boulder, Colorado
  • Class ARCH 5116 Option Studio Havana II: Projections
  • Instructor Tao DuFour

In the aftermath of Hurricane Flora in 1963, the new socialist regime and its leader Fidel Castro were faced with a massive homeless population and no foreseeable housing future for millions of displaced Cubans. It was at this time that Nikita Khrushchev and the USSR donated a prefabricated panel factory that allowed Cuba to mass produce socialist housing across the island. While the utility of the system drove its proliferation across the island, Castro also saw the homogeneity of the system as a way of catalyzing the ideology of the party. The "sameness" of the housing that was built in the rural areas of the island stood directly oppositional to the white collar stylings of Havana. Heavily influenced by Marxist theory, Castro stood outside of the capital with the blue collar workers — the farmers and laborers that were the lifeblood of the nation in his view. After its implementation into Cuban culture, the panel adopted a Cuban vernacular and was modified and varied into multiple systems.

Social identity in Cuba required a sacrifice of individuality for the betterment of the collective whole. Housing in Cuba under the Castro regime was the spatial representation of this ideology. The repetition of the system was both highly utilitarian and highly homogeneous. Still, variation emerged and even thrived in the system. The panel became the framework for the individualization of a sense of "home." In the case of the Cuban panel, homogeneity begets variation and customization.

Today, many of the panels and facades of these great socialist housing experiments are slowly crumbling. Time and salty ocean air have eroded ideologies and concrete alike. The panel factories have been closed for many years, but socialism — for all of the virtues that Fidel prophesied — could not deliver Cuba from the homeless epidemic that continues to plague the country. With the deterioration of the existing housing stock (most units are over 50 years old) and the growing homeless population, the country could soon face a population without access to housing far greater than that displaced by Flora. To curb this problem, something must be done. Tearing down communities like Alamar and Jose Martí is out of the question. Most residents of these massive housing communities have lived in the same units for their entire life. Families have passed units on to one another for the past 50 years. Children have been born, parents have passed away, and the panel has remained constant. Needless to say, there exists a tremendous affinity for the panel system in these communities. If the government did decide to tear down the housing units, it would only exaggerate the housing crisis that currently exists in Cuba.

The project proposes the next step in the lineage of the panel and of socialist housing in the country. It is one that highlights the possibility of variation in a country that has been isolated from technology for many decades. The proposed system uses the existing panel for its structural qualities but reinforces the narrative of variation by proposing new "fill" into structural frames. Cubans will be able to design their own panel, contributing to a new Cuban collage of socialist housing. By "plugging-in" new variations of the panel, the project embraces and cherishes the beloved qualities of the socialist projects while highlighting the individualization of a charged typology in "the home."