Iwo Borkowicz on creating a new model for social housing in Cuba

The Polish architect presents a workable solution for both residents and tourists.

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Cuba is changing. The next ten to twenty years will shape the futures of the island nation’s inhabitants. An aspect of the city that remains fixed though is its housing crisis.

It’s estimated that a third of the population is awaiting housing, and those in need are often pushed into taking up residence in abandoned buildings, creating overcrowded, unhealthy spaces in a country in which adequate housing is considered a right. “The reality is,” Iwo Borkowicz explained while speaking at the 2018 Design Indaba Conference, “that this issue is actually getting bigger.”

An award-winning architect, Borkowicz spent a number of months in Havana, Cuba in 2015 – specifically Havana Vieja, the country’s oldest, second densest housing district which is coming under threat from touristic pressure. Here, he noticed the enormous gulf between the living conditions of many residents and the vast luxury offered by hotels to the growing influx of tourists, and began to consider the options for a solution.

What Borkowicz dreamed up was a building that could serve the needs of both groups; designed to provide apartment housing for local residents, a number of hotel rooms would be incorporated into its layout. The funds acquired from accommodation rates, explains Borkowicz, would enable the loan required for the buildings construction to be quickly paid off.

This isn’t the only obstacle these buildings would address. Aware of how the tourism industry will eventually drop and stabilise, rendering these buildings obsolete, Borkowicz envisions them being designed to accommodate this inevitability. His model sees the the hotel units weaved into the social housing in such a way that they are able to be easily transformed into new housing units later.

“In my opinion,” he told the audience, “these buildings should deeply respect the historic context of the extraordinary environment of Havana Vieja, and create architectural quality with honest material usage that should kind of blend in.”

This vital work has been received positively, and it’s even seen Borkowicz receive the inaugural Young Talent Architecture Award from the Mies van der Rohe Foundation. To learn more about his vision, watch his speaker talk above.

Design Indaba 2018 Conference Talks are presented in partnership with Liberty.  

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