Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Makeover designed for Havana's Malecón

Makeover designed for Havana's Malecón
A study led by an FIU professor calls for an architectural rescue in
Havana, including a makeover for one of the island's most iconic
locales, the Malecón.
Posted on Mon, Dec. 24, 2007
El Nuevo Herald

Havana's famed Malecón could become the future site of seven public
gathering places that could modernize the popular avenue, yet still
protect its urban tradition.

The idea to reconstruct seven kilometers of the Malecón -- from a castle
at one end to where it feeds into the mouth of the Almendares River --
is the final chapter of ''Havana and its Landscapes,'' a study aimed at
the architectural rescue of the capital city under the auspices of
Florida International University in Miami-Dade County.

In charge of the project is prominent Cuban architect Nicolás Quintana,
a professor at FIU who has become an expert on the way Cuba looks today
by poring over textbooks, photos, illustrations, maps and virtual images
of island scenes.

The result will be a two-volume book of almost 500 pages. It will first
be published in English and later in Spanish by the end of next year,
when an exposition is planned at FIU of 32 mock-ups of the Havana of the
future. It will include 28 minutes of ''virtual reality'' footage
showcasing local landscapes. There is also a symposium on the subject
planned for November 2008.

Last week, Quintana put the final touches to the history of Havana in
38,000 words. He also evaluated the 12 mock-ups of the face-lift planned
for the Malecón, done by a group of design school alumni.

''What we have done is find the seven points where people can congregate
and will allow visitors and residents to enjoy the Malecón like the
great urban icon that it is, and should continue to be in the future,''
said Quintana, 82.

The sections of the Malecón selected as potential popular gathering
spots are those that intersect with well-known avenues: Prado,
Belascoaín, Galiano, La Rampa, Línea, Calle G and Paseo. Quintana
considers that this concept will allow the Malecón to continue as
''Havana's great sofa,'' a place where people gather to socialize or eat
an ice cream cone.

Begun in 2004 with a budget of $325,000, the project was conceived as a
''comprehensive and multifaceted'' study dealing with what is needed to
rescue the city of Havana from its ruin without impacting its
architectural flavor or urban identity.

The idea for the architectural probe was conceived by Cuban-American
urbanization experts Sergio Pino and Anthony Seijas.

''The radicalization of reconstructing everything can be as dangerous as
actual destruction,'' Quintana said, noting that was one of the
disciplines of modern architecture that flourished in Cuba in the middle
of the last century.

The architect insists the investigation will net ''a wealth of ideas,
not definitive solutions'' to rescue and protect the city of Havana once
democratic change takes hold on the island.

''This will be an invaluable reference document, but we won't pretend to
impose our vision on the architects and urban planners that will assume
the revitalization of the that city,'' he said.

For guidance, the architectural study will be based on the study of
geographical plans of the city and information culled via satellite,
complemented with recent photos of the facades of buildings and entire
neighborhood blocks in Havana.

For the historical data, they have scoured copies of the Archives of the
Indies, Cuba's national library and the University of Havana, and they
have numerous anonymous collaborators on the island.

Before launching the project, its supporters said they were open to
input from professors, architects and individuals, but they never
imagined the positive response they received from residents.

''The cooperation of the people of Cuba has been very touching,'' said
Quintana, who left the island in 1960 and has never returned to his
native country.

''More than 500 photographs have been sent to us by different means and
sometimes in blind e-mails, or a CD is dropped in the mail,'' he said.
``We've had many people offer their help. In reality, the help of my
fellow countrymen has touched me and has made me push harder for this

To prepare the mock-ups of the Malecón, Quintana used photos of the
area, building by building, that surrounds the Malecón in the
neighborhoods that border Old Havana and the tunnel leading to Almendares.

The study's promoters admit that Cuban authorities have been aware of
the project since its inception. In November, the University of Alicante
in Spain announced that Cuba's historical society had viewed proposals
to modernize the Malecón.

''We have not hidden information about our study,'' Quintana said. ``We
have only refused to cooperate with the destroyers of the Cuban way of
life, because this project is to develop freedom and I believe that's
how the project is viewed by the young people inside the island who are
helping us.''

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