Just today, after seeing a documentary about recent ruins, I was turning my mind to a new post. Under the title “Unfinished Spaces,” I would collect the testimonies of various architects and students who participated in the building of the Superior Art Institute (ISA). All of them spoke of the original beauty of the project, the novelty of its structure, and the desires to make its form and creation coincide. But they also spoke of the abandonment of the construction, along with some of its faculties, which were never completed. So I was thinking in terms of columns, bricks and weed-covered roofs when I received a call telling me of a collapse in Central Havana. At Infanta and Salud streets, a three-story building couldn’t hold up any longer, and it caved in on the evening of Tuesday, January 17.
I recalled the many times I had passed along this block, hurrying my steps past the bad state of the balconies and walls. It evoked all those times I asked myself how it was possible that people continued to inhabit a place so on the verge of collapse. For the inhabitants of this building, the load of construction materials ordered just a few weeks ago came too late. The structural damage suffered by the building had no remedy, because it was the result of State indolence and decades of lack of paint, cement and other materials to repair the structure. The groaning it gave off before the floor gave way and the walls collapsed in on themselves is a part of the architectural rattle of a neighborhood with houses that are beautiful, but in a terminal state.
So far, the official media have reported three dead and six injured in the collapse on Infanta Street. People who lived the last years of their lives looking up and calculating the time left to the rafters, fearing what finally happened. How many others in this capital run the same risk tomorrow? What urgent solution will be applied so that these tragedies won’t continue to be a part of our daily landscape? We will not accept a response in the style of, “We are studying the issue in order to apply solutions in a gradual way.” Nor do we now fault the inhabitants themselves, who stayed in an uninhabitable place. Where could they go? Instead, we demand that the State construct, repair, protect us.
18 January 2011