‘To Have Beautiful Cities,’ You Need Architects, Say Cuban Professionals

The Bacardi building in Havana, a jewel of Cuban ‘art deco’, was the work of architects Rafael Fernández Ruenes, Esteban Rodríguez Castell and José Menéndez. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2021 — The Group of Cuban Studies of Architecture (GECA) has launched a campaign on social networks to demand from the Government that they can practice their profession as self-employed. “Independent architecture should not be ignored in Cuba,” headlined a statement posted on Facebook this Saturday with the aim of having the authorities eliminate both architecture and engineering from the list of 124 activities expressly prohibited as forms of self-employment by the Ministry of Labor and Security Social.

In their statement they raise several questions: “How do you aspire to beautiful and orderly cities, to their future potential, if you do not have the independent architect? How do you aspire to build 300,000 homes by your own means without the help of the independent architect? How do you aspire to save the house, the little one, the 100-year-old one, ignoring the independent architect, who watches over the execution of your project and accompanies the work so that everything is done as planned and following good construction practices?”

In addition, they describe as “a necessity” that there are different ways to practice architecture in the country and stressed that “releasing” this activity, from the restrictions on self-employment, will “add ideas and proposals that have a positive impact on social spheres where the State does not reach.”

GECA, a non-profit organization created about five years ago, aims to disseminate contemporary architecture through talks and workshops. It returned to the charge with its demand in another post this Sunday.

“It is true that the list of permitted activities has been expanded and has benefited many,” they grant, “but the prohibition of self-employment in professional, scientific and technical activities constitutes an obstacle for the current times, since we need every opportunity to contribute to the progress and welfare of our nation.”

The association notes that Cuba’s architectural heritage “is full of exceptional examples devised by architects and engineers who exercised their work on their own” and clarifies that proposing the legalization of their profession “does not constitute a barrier to the existing state companies.”

“We do not intend to supplant them,” they assert. “The objective is to seek a balance where state companies and all possible forms of management coexist, generating, beyond the competitive end, a palpable result in the city.”

This would allow, they say, “the creation of mixed entities” that could be competitive even for export and that, in addition, would mitigate “the flow of human capital to other latitudes.”

Their demand, GECA concludes, “comes from society itself rather than professionals, which, after all, is the one who needs us.”

The National Classifier of Economic Activities, in Section 7.110, restricts the private exercisse of “architectural consulting activities that include building design and drawing of construction plans, urban planning and landscape architecture” or “the design engineering that includes civil, hydraulic and traffic engineering projects, water management projects, electrical and electronic, mechanical, industrial and systems engineering projects, or the management of projects related to construction.” In addition, it prohibits, in section 9.412, professional associations.

However, work in construction, masonry, plumbing, and electrical are recognized jobs in the new standard.

Since the new provisions were published on February 10, many architects have expressed their annoyance on social networks. For example, Universo García Lorenzo, who in a Facebook posts asks: “Constructions without architectural design?”

“Our professions as architects and engineers must be involved in equal conditions in all the processes and activities of construction in Cuba, which have already been authorized to practice on their own, independent, and in collaboration with the state company,” he demands. “We architects should no longer be supplanted by any other creative entity.”

García Lorenzo also argues that “the city, architecture, public space and all habitable spaces in their wide diversity are the material support of most of human activity,” and that their development is an inherent factor in human progress. “For a society that faces great economic challenges,” he says, “all productive activity must join that effort, without exclusions.”

At present, García Lorenzo recalls, “in state investments the architecture content is legally commissioned and contracted to artists or artisan creators, builders, industrial designers, many others legally authorized to work in an independent capacity, but without the competence or professional relevance of an architect.”

In fact, independent studios such as Apropia Estudio, Albor Arquitectos or Ad Urbis have been doing their work for years without explicit permission. With the new rule, as with filmmakers, they go from being ‘unlegal’ to illegal.


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