Albor Arquitectos: "Building in Cuba is a challenge"

Albor Arquitectos: "Building in Cuba is a challenge"

Albor Arquitectos is a Cuban architecture studio founded in 2016 by Carlos Manuel González Baute, Alain Rodríguez Sosa, Camilo José Cabrera Pérez and Merlyn González García. They say that building in Cuba is a complex task, a growing challenge due to the lack of materials, high costs and restrictions on the independent practice of the profession.

Even in this context, their work, such as Casa Soporte, Casa Casita and El Apartamento, stands out for the continuity of the inherited city, the rediscovery of construction techniques and an architecture based on proximity to the people and the prevailing social reality.

Selected by ArchDaily as one of the New Practices of 2021 and recently winner of second place in the Building of the Year Award 2022 for their project Casa Torre, we conducted the following interview to tell us more in detail about all their inspirations, motivations and ways of working from Cuba.

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Casa torre / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Albor Arquitectos

Fabian Dejtiar (FD): One of the first statements you see when you enter your website is that "Building in Cuba is a complex exercise". Can you tell us a bit more about this? What inspired you to make architecture in this context?

Albor Arquitectos (AA): To paraphrase the text of the publication Casa Soporte, building in Cuba is a challenge, whether because of the lack of materials, the high costs, the loss of the technical capacity of the workforce over the years, the restrictions on the independent practice of the profession or the limitations in the structures of the state construction companies. A Cuban architect is a utopian figure, his work is not a necessity, neither aesthetic nor conceptual. At Albor we believe that from within this hostile context the architecture that interests us can be produced, architecture based on proximity to the people and the prevailing social reality, the continuity of the inherited city, the rediscovery of construction techniques of the past through worker-architect feedback, the resolution of problems with a certain dignity: the aspiration for a kind of noble beauty emanating from reality.

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Casa Soporte / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure

FD: In this sense, in a conversation I had with the Cuban architect Fernando Martirena, he affirmed that "contemporary Cuban architecture is alegal and almost non-existent" and that "contemporary Cuban architecture is not a topic of conversation". What do you think of this?

AA: In order to understand a complex process such as the reality of Cuban architecture today, one has to assume a whole series of conditioning factors deeply linked to Cuba's recent history. It is inaccurate to speak of an absence of contemporary architecture in the public discourse, when architecture is closely linked to the most important symbolic structures in the state, organised in a large network of companies dedicated to the construction, design and control of their execution, which are regulated by a ministry dedicated exclusively to this. It is possibly clearer to speak of the absence of independent architecture - among which our practice is included - within this discourse. In fact, while a few years ago independent architecture enjoyed a certain status of legal indefinition, today we can affirm that its practice has been tacitly prohibited. The how and why of this situation is a profoundly complex issue with a multiplicity of edges and nuances that go beyond the limits of the profession.

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Casa Soporte / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure
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Casa Soporte / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure

FD: I understand that Albor is a group of architects who develop their work as an act of interpretation and response to the prevailing Cuban reality. What is the work process you carry out for this?

AA: Lately we have been tending towards an architecture of reality, if that means anything in Cuba. The idea of bringing an epic dimension to architecture does not seem viable in our situation. The work we do, as we have said, responds to that condition of being thrown into the profession in which we can barely discern between decisions taken and decisions induced. The work process we carry out is carried out with almost all the supposed legitimising structures of the profession dismantled: we have never had a physical studio, the four members have always worked in parallel jobs alongside the studio, we depend on third parties to obtain building permits, and on construction sites, we have never had access to a regulated or stable market for building materials and implements.

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El Apartamento / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure

This determines a unique conception of architectural projects: the idea stage is developed in a way that almost invariably forces the concentration on the elementary conditions, which are the answer to the project's questions, affected by the constant limitations that will have to be solved on the go, which determines a process in which the line between vernacular construction - in terms of the manner - and the professionalisation of architecture is blurred.

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El Apartamento / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure
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El Apartamento / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure

FD: You were recently selected by ArchDaily among the New Practices of 2021. What kind of value do you see in this great diffusion? What future projection do you have?

AA: It is great recognition for us because Plataforma Arquitectura / ArchDaily has always been an important way to find and study contemporary architecture. We are encouraged to think that our projects are part of this community together with architects we deeply admire. Regarding the nomination, we are excited about the idea of confrontation, since our projects are known and we can generate an exchange with architects from other latitudes, and put other people in contact with our context, which can be somewhat singular.

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Instalación Tres Esencias / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Albor Arquitectos

Faced with a complex reality, we like to think of our group as a minimum structure capable of assuming the changes of the context in which we move. As we have said before, our practice is closely linked to a changing, very unstable reality. The panorama of the delegitimisation of the independent profession projects a practice that we will try to take towards the field of documentation, processual research and small constructive actions. At the moment we find this perspective both interesting and unfathomable, and we will try to take it on in an enriching way.

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Instalación Tres Esencias / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Albor Arquitectos
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Instalación Tres Esencias / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Albor Arquitectos

FD: Finally, what new projects are you currently working on? What would you like to develop further?

AA: We are currently working on small-scale and habitat projects, and we are continuing with the research and documentation we have been carrying out over the last few years on the typological evolution of housing in the country's urban centres, particularly in the city of Cienfuegos - its environmental conditions, historical evolution and processes of densification of the city - which we would like to publish.

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Hostal Casa U / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

On the other hand, for the last two years, Albor has had two of its members in Cuba and two in Spain. We understand this condition, like others with which the group works in, with certain exteriority that allows us to analyse, from the profession, questions related to how Cuban society and architecture have developed in recent decades. From a very elementary perspective, we claim ideas that could be interesting: to have a double perspective on the peripheral condition of our work, the discernment of what might be valuable and, moreover, which of these conclusions could be extrapolated to a more global context and to more essential responses to architecture - the relationship between the vernacular and the professional, the artisanal and the industrialised, the scope in the configuration of cities of the institutional and the self-managed, and the social meanings of architecture. In the future we would like to continue investigating these questions and relationships, but right now, given the situation described, the happiness of continuing with our work, the survival of the study would be our fundamental objective. This is no small thing.

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Hostal Casa U / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
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Hostal Casa U / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

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Cite: Dejtiar, Fabian. "Albor Arquitectos: "Building in Cuba is a challenge"" [Albor Arquitectos: "Construir en Cuba es un desafío"] 19 Apr 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Pérez Bravo, Amelia) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/979790/albor-arquitectos-building-in-cuba-is-a-challenge> ISSN 0719-8884

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Casa torre / Albor Arquitectos. Image © Albor Arquitectos

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