Simulated Democracy: Miami Redesigns the Havana Malecon

Foto: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Cuba.Habana.Malecon.01.jpg

This week Bryan Finoki posted on archinect a link to a very interesting article concerning the future makeover of Havana’s malecon (click here), via a studio project directed by Nicolas Quintana professor at Florida International University. What is interesting to me is that the projects -32 mock ups- are intended to demonstrate the future of the malecon and nearby areas of the city, as ''a wealth of ideas, not definitive solutions'' to rescue and protect the city of Havana once democratic change takes hold on the island” (Cansio 2007). My concern lies in their view of democracy solely based on covert operations for urban renewal and autocratic design methodologies. As the article explains, it seems that in order to collect site data of contextual conditions they have engaged in spy tactics using informants inside the island, as well as military style strategies via satellite imagery.

“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” (Cansio 2007).

I thought that any democratic development should promote equal voice to all members while discussing the future through a transparent and egalitarian process. It might be ( I have not seen the actual projects) that these future visions of Havana only promote a simulated democracy or a calculated plan for globalized urbanism.

Quintana explains that their plans and projects are inclusive and they wont pretend to impose their vision on the “architects and urban planners that will assume the revitalization of the city,” (Cansio 2007). Who will assume this responsibility? It almost seems that they have selected to negate participation of the people for whom they are designing until they find the chosen one (s) to carry out this “democratic” redevelopment operation. At the same time while being inclusive and pursuing democracy they will “refuse to cooperate with the destroyers of the Cuban way of life,” (Cansio 2007).

Yes, the Cuban way of life filled with great music, gambling and other illicit acts prohibited in the US, a “playground for the rich and famous” as the Cuban writer and biographer of the mafia in Cuba, Enrique Cirules explains. It was the era of great modernism in Havana, like no other in the world with works by Phillip Johnson, Sert, Neutra, Albini and other prominent modernist (Luis 2000). Yet, this modern museum of a city was erected during the reign of the Batista-mafia regime backed by the US government, a mafia that was driven out in 1958 by guerrillas from the Sierra Maestra. US mafia groups, that without Batista, or his political-military leadership, could not prevent the entrance into Cuba of the powerful New York Mafia families with whom they had been at war in 1957, or prevent the dispersion of their lucrative business deals in Havana (Cirules 2004).

The last time I was in Havana (2003) I walked for hours on the malecon, sipping rum and watching people gather throughout its long and winding extension, pockets of social groups had appropriated their sections and as I moved along I experienced diversity and public space. If I remember correctly the malecon did not need to be redesigned. There were some renovation projects that began to be seen along the nearby streets. My friend in Havana, Alberto Faya, had taken a group of us to see his restoration effort in Boyeros, a whole town designed in Deco style. Surprisingly Havana was slowly restoring its buildings and its future in the most imaginative way they could and how they have always done everything since the big spenders left the country to Miami.
Now they (Miami) want to revive a city they might not understand anymore, envisioned through memories and with the help of the US mass media they have been able to see a new yet filtered and artificial picture. Quintana himself has not been to Havana since 1960 (Cansio 2007).

Cubans lived the splendor of a non-ideological modernism and once the rug was swept from their feet they embarked into a reality that many societies are in the wake of experiencing. In the same manner Rem explains about Lagos: Havana is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Havana. Havana reminds me of Tijuana in the sense that disparity has not blinded these two sister cities in navigating toward their own future, and whatever the outcome is - survival or demise - the world, might, just might, learn something about survival and re-invention.

Cansio Isla, Wilferdo. Makeover Designed for Havana's Malecón,. El Nuevo Herald 12/23/2007

Cirules, Enrique. The Mafia in Havana. Ocean Press, NY 2004

Luis Rodriguez, Eduardo. The Havana Guide, Modern Architecture 1925-1965, Princeton Press. NY 2000

Koolhaas, Rem. The Harvard Project On The City, ‘Lagos’ in Mutations, Actar, Bordeaux 2001.

Note: I am very interested in seeing the projects so that I can comment on them more objectively, for know this response is directed to the Herald's story and its presentation of the subject.


"Oscar Peterson is a mother fucking piano player!" Ray Charles,

El gran Oscar Peterson murio hoy en Toronto. Virtuoso del piano dentro del genero del jazz. Desde chico recuerdo los discos de su famoso trio, con Ray Brown en el bajo, que escuchaba mi padre alternando con las grabaciones del gran Art Tatum. Escuchar "Tenderly" en el piano de Peterson es una experiencia sensacional. El disco Nigh Train (1962) es un buen inicio para conocer y escuchar la magia de este grande de las blancas y negras. QEPD

La version de Waltz for Debbie ( composicion de otro gran pianista: Bill Evans) en este video es sin duda de las mejores!


Shenzhen & -Hongkong
Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture

Generica/Rene Peralta partícipan en la bienal de arquitectura y urbanismo en la ciudad de Shenzhen, China. Evento que se llevara acabo del 08 de Diciembre al 1 de Marzo. la instalación esta compuesta de una exposición gráfica en gran formato del libro Aqui es Tijuana ( de Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta y Heriberto Yepez) junto con un vídeo de 10 min sobre los tres capítulos del libro (Avatares, Deseos, Permutaciones) producido por Rene Peralta y dirigido por Les Bernstien.

Generica and Rene Peralta are parcipating in Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture in the city of Shenzhen, China. The event will take place from December 08 untill March 01. The installation includes large format images of the book Here is Tijuana (by Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta and Heriberto Yepez) as well as a 10 min. video of the three main chapters of the book (Avatars, Desires, Permutations) produced by Rene Peralta and directed by Les Bernstien.

El video fue producido 90% con fotografia.

muro de introduccion/ intro wall

Muro de imagenes / image wall

Questions pertaining to the central theme of the Biennale sent by Qingyun Ma Director of the 2007 Shenzhen- Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture and Dean of the School of Architecture at USC. Here are my thoughts and answers.

Qingyun Ma: What do we need and get from the city? Conversely, what do we provide for the city?

Rene Peralta: We need a critical awareness of ourselves from the city.
The city gives us a continuous urban landscape that includes the ugly, the political, catastrophe, memory and in some cases a sense of optimism to evolve as social beings.

Qingyun Ma: Can we trust our judgment of the future?

Rene Peralta: It seems that futures are a thing of the past. In most cases cities are struggling to perceive their own present. A persistent transformation of the city negates a view of a single imaginary future; the city adjusts in space and time. The city de-codifies and re-codifies itself continuously.

Qingyun Ma: Should we invest in intelligence that maximizes a building’s performance in a given time period or in sentiments which demand its perpetuation?

Rene Peralta: In this case if the city is in perpetual state of codification, buildings perform the function of hosting a spatial construct that allow for the creation of a collective memory. In an age of singular buildings, spatial amnesia and urban surveillance, do buildings contribute to reality or to, as Baudrillard mentions, to the fiction of society?

Qingyun Ma: How can we maximize our needs today?

Rene Peralta: By minimizing our consumption, reassigning value and destabilizing power.

Qingyun Ma: Should buildings have expiration dates?

Rene Peralta: If building is a cultural endeavor then the question should also converse if culture also expires? The city is a mental construct and buildings are part of its representational form. But when our perceptions of the city change due to expanding modes of media and communication, the spectacle shapes our perception. Therefore society reduces building to forms of consumption, mere theatrical stages, that do not allow a critical awareness of ourselves.

Qingyun Ma: Should a city stay in its current form forever?

Rene Peralta: Cities are made up processes that involve global and local economies, which reconfigure urban and social networks. Cities can no longer be comprehended as a totality. Therefore by their contemporary nature cities cannot be static entities and their current form is a problem of negotiation rather than ideology.

Qingyun Ma: Can we envision a city composed of temporary buildings, instead of eternal monuments?

Rene Peralta: Cities need singular buildings that produce unique spatial experiences and are part of the collective memory, building which represent grandeur and failure of the society that created them. Urban space can do this as well as Jane Jacobs once mentioned. The demise of our existing structures can only represent our own systems in decadence. Temporality could be a Fad.

Qingyun Ma: What is the polar opposite to the city?

Rene Peralta: Don’t know, there are still so many possible cities. We have not built the last and final one yet.

Qingyun Ma: What is the essence of agriculture?

Rene Peralta: Agriculture is already happening in the southern hemisphere as a method dealing with worst-case scenarios, agriculture is very real and contemporary.

Qingyun Ma: Is agriculture the next form of urbanism?

Rene Peralta: Due to political, economical and environmental instability agriculture can become a self-sustaining project for communities. In the verge of reaching peak oil and other resource depletion, agriculture will be a necessity rather than a trend.

Project collaborators: Salvador Luna, Christine Geronaga , Les Bernstien and made possible by Woodbury University.

Spacial Thanks to architect and good friend Peter Zellner, Co-Curator of the Biennale.