Cuban barbacoa

Slums are forbidden in Havana, Cuba.But like in every neoliberal society, and even more accentuated in socialist/communist archaic regimes, informality simply arises somehow.

Timber in Cuba is a precious good only to be managed by the State. As a result, informal dwellings can neither appear in the urban periphery, nor to be constructed with wood. The popular invention to solve it are Barbacoas. A make-shift mezzanine added to old colonial buildings in Havana, to duplicate the living surface. An invisible solution for permanent micro-slums.

On the other hand, these derelict noble houses need to be preserved for its heritage value. Then, the State uses wood for intricate supporting structures, which could even invite to be also informally inhabited. As researcher Patricio del Real points out, when talking about Andamios (scaffolding):

“…Locals then used to call Havana “La Ciudad de San Lázaro” (St. Lazarus’ City), because of all the crutches supporting its buildings preventing them from falling. Behind this ruinous reality hid the barbacoas, which for many were but a continuation of the rotting condition of the city. I take issue with this interpretation and instead think they represent not a decaying city but on the contrary manifest a force of growth and vitality.”

[images 1-4> Andamios and Barbacoas subdivisions in Old Havana by Patricio del Real via barbacoas] [images 5> Barbacoa from outside by Adriana Navarro; image 6> Section of Barbacoa  from Mesías González, R and J L Morales Menocal (1984) ‘Arquitectura al servicio del usuario creadores de su vivienda’ ; both via FAVELissues]


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