Housing in Cuba: Technocrats Prefer PlasticAugust 9, 2013 | Print |
“I feel like I’m in a herd of buffalo, and they’re all stampeding towards a thousand-foot drop and they’re all just falling over the edge, and I’m in that herd (…) so I have to somehow affect the whole herd so that they will take a left turn or a right turn and not go off this edge (…) I’m trying to save my ass.” – Michael Reynolds
HAVANA TIMES — Construction work is a tough, dirty, dangerous and badly-paid job (particularly when the State is your employer). Havana’s middle class tries to avoid it more than they do the devil himself, and happily let the newcomer from somewhere in Cuba’s eastern end, the former convict who can’t get a job anywhere or the poor fellow who’ll do anything to be able to eat, take their place on the scaffold.
A few days ago, I had to do some repair work around the apartment where I live and had no other choice but to shut down the computer and bite the bullet. When I finished working every night, exhausted, I would ask myself how anyone in their right mind could devote their entire life to something like that.
That is what I thought only days ago, but my aversion towards bricklaying has begun to dwindle since seeing Oliver Hodge’s 2007 documentary “Garbage Warrior.”
US architect Michael Reynolds is the head of a group of friends who build homes using locally-recovered waste materials (beer cans, car tires, bottles and plastic containers) and locally produced sand and gravel.
In addition to being pretty, exotic (each of the houses shows an over-abundance of creativity) and comfortable in all seasons (requiring no heating or air conditioning), Reynolds’ Earthships are very affordable – not only because the construction process is cheap, but also because they can do without electricity, water services and even traditional waste disposal infrastructure (sewage waters are processed and used to irrigate the interior garden-orchard). With these features, the Earthships contribute to the prevention of global warming.
What attracts me about this whole business the most, of course, isn’t the prospect of spending entire days stuffing dirt into an old truck tire or stirring cement-mix under the desert sun. What inspires me is the philosophy behind the project and, above all, its results.
Before seeing the documentary, what was team of construction workers to me? Nothing less than drudgery incarnate. On the one hand, the boss breaths down your neck, prods you and blackmails you so you will work extra hours. On the other, you have the ill-tempered workers who care very little about the end result of the work.
These things couldn’t be more removed from the work methods of the Earthship company. It’s incredible how even the toughest, dirtiest jobs can be done with pleasure if they are undertaken within a community that one feels part of, within a system that encourages creativity, with the certainty that the fruit of one’s labor will not be alienated and knowing that one is working for the good of others. I hope to be able to have an experience of this nature before I’m deep in the ground.
Shouldn’t Cuba, supposedly a socialist country with a fragile economy and a chronic housing deficit, promote initiatives like this one? In my modest opinion, yes, but the wise decision-makers in our government have apparently put their bets on a project that is diametrically opposed to this one: petro-houses.
Petro-houses make us dependent on oil and technology (which is no laughing matter, considering fossil fuels are becoming ever more scarce), their ecological impact is considerable and, to top things off, since they are expensive and cannot be constructed by their inhabitants, increase our dependence on the State.
Why then, are these cute plastic houses the ones the technocrats prefer? Could it be that they are more in keeping with their vision of the world? Is it because it secures them prestige, leadership and dividends? Or are they merely a pretext to continue this boastful business of the fraternal unity between Cuba and Venezuela?
The day in which initiatives like the one impelled by Reynolds and his company will be thinkable in Cuba seems far off, but perhaps it is not so distant after all. The energy crisis that is beginning to rear its ugly head today will force people to build with whatever is at hand – one of the principles of this mad architect.
If it’s a question of saving our asses, the best way to do this is to prepare for the coming crisis. We must do this so that this crisis doesn’t take us by surprise, which is what happened with the last one, which one of its main architects christened with the name “Special Period.”