It is an eye-catching house, marked with the number 255. The facade, in the form of white cubes, recalls a certain field of concrete art. Nothing similar in this block of 26 street between 21 and 19, in El Vedado, dominated by the eclecticism of Havana, sum of dissimilar styles, style without style.
I then learned that the installation, enigmatic for me until very recently, was originally a house devoid of architectural interest, and that it had been remodeled to become the headquarters of Proyecto Espacios (PE) since 2015.
The LAB.26 gallery workshop is working there, which these days presents the exhibition Minimum distances (Minimum Distances), a catalog of what the Proyecto Espacios did in 2019 and 2020, a very difficult period which did not however stop the feverish activity of this interdisciplinary group founded in 1998 under the creative, impartial and sensitive gaze. by architect Vilma Bartolomé, and under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Fund for Cultural Property.
The name of the exhibition alludes to these harsh times of pandemic, when the distance to be respected between people is regulated, to minimize the risk of contagion. You must therefore make an appointment in advance to access LAB.26. And there I went to discover, to marvel, to admire.
In 2020, works and projects such as the El Carmelo Cultural Station, Restaurant La Torre and the Havana Government House of Protocol, have been completed, efforts that contribute to the capital.
The headquarters of LAB.26, as we can see, is, in itself, a manifesto, as far as architecture is concerned, of the distinctive features of Proyecto Espacios: “simple functional diagrams, clean forms, study of light natural and ventilation, main incorporation of vegetation, work with noble materials, contemporary reinterpretation of traditional architectural values…. The above are words taken from promotional material that one cannot help but confirm.
I was particularly struck by the assortment of more than 130 furniture designs and prototypes made available to investors and clients – now even private – designed and manufactured by this creative group, which has a total of nearly 1,200 furniture designs. , in twenty years of uninterrupted work. . These pieces of furniture are offered “à la carte”: you just have to choose the model and the material in which they are to be made, almost always imported, to send them to be produced at Factoría Espacios, a workshop located in the Havana district. of Los Sitios, one of the PE departments. Many are the designs thought and “tested” in hotels, restaurants, offices and residences: sofas, armchairs, chairs, stools, tables, beds, storage furniture, outdoor furniture for verandas and gardens, for kitchens and for living rooms. children ‘rooms. Pieces that combine functionality, durability and beauty. And, what is no less important, in PE, they pride themselves on scrupulously respecting the agreed delivery dates.
A little history
How to define Proyecto Espacios? An office, an office, a laboratory, a workshop? That, a workshop, but in the Renaissance, where skills, knowledge and various specializations converge in an open, flexible format, and in which the commitment to very clear principles in search of a common goal are a priority: the excellence, whether it is, design or manufacture; advise others, build, organize exhibitions, restore…. A commitment that translates into seriousness, open-mindedness and passionate dedication. PEs love what they do. And they do a lot. And very well.
I asked Vilma Bartolomé what her position was. She couldn’t answer me the first time. Boss, director? She hesitated a moment. “Better said ‘general designer’. And it is that in one way or another they all design, although for the internal organization of the work they are constituted in three groups: design, craft factory and projects. And in each line, the youth of specialists and workers prevail, since PE also has a vocation to train and save endangered trades.
These three or four amazed young people who in 1998 locked themselves in a garage and took up the challenge of designing, in just 72 hours, a room for the Havanan Novo hotel, laid the first stone of what is today a group. of work and creation. sui generis in our environment, adapted to assume a “turnkey” service as well as to design and manufacture lights, exterior and interior architecture projects, communicational design and advice to harmoniously link and interpret art and Cuban culture in public and private spaces. Attention: here the term culture is assumed as an entity in perpetual movement, which must have recognizable roots, but which is contrary to folklore, standardizations and patterns in use.
It would be difficult to list the many efforts planned and carried out by the EP since the beginning, both in Cuba and abroad. I would like to highlight the Inglaterra Hotel, Havana, 1998; University Cultural Center, UCI, Havana, 2002; Galería Habana, Mexico, 2004; La Abadía Bar-Restaurant, Havana Malecón, 2009; Restaurant La Imprenta, Havana, 2009; Retiro auction house, Spain, 2009; Grand Theater of Havana, 2016; El Carmelo Cultural Station, Línea and 18, Havana, 2018; Ateneo bookstore and literary café, Cuba, 2019; Cultural corridor of Calle Línea, 2019; Restaurant and interior terrace of Los 12 Apóstoles, Havana, 2020; Cultural Center of the Stars of the Buena Vista Social Club, Havana, 2020; and La Colina Cultural Center, Regla, Havana, 2021.
According to Vilma Bartolomé, the Cultural corridor of Calle Línea “Is an urban renewal project, seen from the point of view of culture” and it aims to “save public space throughout Línea. “It is probably one of his best-known works. Three kilometers from one end to the other where there are institutions of national reference, such as the Mella and Trianón theaters (headquarters of the El Público theater group) , the Galería Habana, the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center, the Ateneo bookstore, the Acosta Danza headquarters and the El Ciervo Encantado theater group, among others.
The industrial complex located on line 18 was the El Carmelo tram station, at the origins of El Vedado. Then, a bus factory and, during the Special Period, a bicycle assembly workshop. The heart of the objective of urban acupuncture that Proyecto Espacios presented is there: the Cultural Center of Station Línea, partially inaugurated during the last Craft Fair, and which will be a multi-purpose fun fair.
The Corridor project… was a contribution by PE to the celebrations of the capital’s 500 years and includes the proposal to revive parks, sports and cultural areas and buildings for various public uses.
As for the overseas Havana municipality of Regla, on the outskirts of the capital, the design activity of Proyecto Espacios has also arrived recently. Regla has a population of 44,000 and is known today as an important place for manifestations of popular religiosity. There is the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Regla (1811-1818), a Marian dedication which is syncretized with Yemayá, the Yoruba goddess of the sea, and which receives every September 7 visitors and pilgrims arriving from the most various.
In addition, the headquarters of Los Guaracheros is located in Regla, not to mention that in this small town is the artistic and literary high school, of which José Martí was a permanent member of the instruction section. On October 10, 1878, during the founding ceremony of the Lycée, our national hero gave a fiery speech, among the few of a political nature that he gave on the island. On this occasion, he declared: “This platform which honors us this evening should not be a golden cage where songbirds are exhibited, but rather a very high platform with difficult access for the practice of the truth. “1
The La Colina socio-cultural center will be located on Lenin Hill, a privileged balcony of the municipality, on the initiative of the local government to which PE is contributing with a project to renovate several existing buildings and spaces. The whole corresponds to the plan to revitalize the socio-cultural fabric of the territory and is co-financed by the European Union and the NGO Mouvement pour la Paix. As expressed in the declaration issued by PE at the launch of the initiative, the group “relied on one of the premises that usually accompany us: the summons and articulation of small interventions in a territory can ostensibly change the social dynamics and the quality of life of its people. inhabitants “.
The La Colina socio-cultural center aspires to add the inhabitants to the management of their own spaces. It will have sports facilities, visual and literary arts workshops, a library, a cafeteria, multipurpose rooms and spaces for exhibitions and fairs.
In the surrounding area, hiking trails will be developed and the forest repopulated with the intention of making it a family recreation area.
You cannot visit LAB.26 without being somehow attached to what is “cooked” there. It occurs to me that the projects they carry out are the material envelope of dreams. These assertive and creative people, who do without worrying about material limitations, misunderstandings or momentary disappointments. Here they are, conquering successive spaces.
1 Quoted in “José Martí y la fundación del Liceo de Regla”, Juventud Rebelde, October 30, 2008.
* All photos used in this article are courtesy of Proyecto Espacios.