19 March 2011

Caribbean Winter School: Debrief

View of La Habana from Casablanca (across the bay).

I recently returned from attending the 2nd Caribbean Winter School in Havana, Cuba (see earlier post here), with another representative of the Manchester School of Architecture - Carrie Bayley. Organised by the Muenster School of Architecture, in cooperation with the Universitat Politèchnica de Catalyna (Barcelona) and University CUJAE (Havana) the programme ran between February 21st 2011 and March 13th 2011. The three week programme was a fascinating, if intense and at times over whelming, experience that allowed me to explore various different areas of the city which I will be exploring in the coming weeks on this blog. To start with I will use this piece to provide a debrief and over view of the winter school and the programme it was challenged with addressing - "School +".

International Perspectives: The winter school brought together a range of
individuals from across Europe and Central America

The winter school brought together 35 students from 4 countries and 5 different academic institutions - 15 from the Munster School of Architecture, Munster, Germany, 5 from HTWG Constanz University, Constanz, Germany, 3 from Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), Haifa, Israel, 2 from the Manchester School of Architecture and 10 from CUJAE, Havana, Cuba. The student contingent was complimented by a team of professors, tutors and invited critics from 4 countries and 6 different academic institutions: Prof. Prof.h.c. Herbert Buehler (Muenster School of Architecture), Prof. Dr. Ruben Bancroft (CUJAE), Prof. Myriam Gautschi (HTWG, Constanz), Prof. Gavriela Nussbaum (Technion), Prof. Jorge Pena (CUJAE), Prof. Barbara Schmidt-Kirchberg (Muenster School of Architecture), Prof. Jordi Sutrias (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona), Prof. Frid Buehler (Chairman ASAP, Berlin / Muenchen), Prof. Zeev Druckman (Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem), Prof. Dr Joiselen Cazanave and Prof. Yanamari Bancroft. A number of the Professors gave lectures during the programme and these will be highlighted in future posts.

The various Professors, Tutors and Critics at the Interim Crit

Working under the title "School +" the students (myself included) worked in 9 international teams (with at least one Cuban student per team) to develop solutions for either a primary or secondary school on a restricted site in the Centro and Vedado districts respectively. Each team had to make use of the local resources (light, sun, air, local materials) to "preserve the valuable urban tissue" of the area and deal with the complex social problems of a school as well as addressing what extra benefit (the "+" element) a school can bring to the wider community.

Group Dynamics: how the international teams broke down

The idea of "School +" was envisioned as part of a UIA working programme and seeks to move beyond simple 'social engagement' or 'community outreach' and become an active component, even a catalyst or tool for urban transformation as opposed to a reactionary response. Furthermore, currently little examples of new purpose-built schools exist in Havana's urban centre (schools are present however they make use of appropriated buildings that are not always suited to their needs) and as such the projects will be presented to the Cuban Ministry of Education to help inform the next phase of school building. The projects will also be presented at the UIA World Congress in Tokyo later this year.

Students from Europe packed model making materials in their luggage to aid the
design of the projects. Spare materials were then donated to students at CUJAE.

The Convento de Santa Clara acted as the winter school's base, with the students staying in the hotel that is now part of the second cloister. The Convento is one of the oldest and most typical Colonial religious buildings in the New World having been founded in 1664 by Sister Catalina de Mendoza to originally offer refuge for the wealthy girls of the city. Two of three original cloisters remain intact, one houses the aforementioned hotel and the other to the Centro Nacional de Conservacion Restauracion y Museologia. It was in the Convento that the project work was undertaken and evening lectures held. In addition to various trips in and around Havana excursions also took place to Matanzas and Varadero further along the east coast of the island.

Students sat in the patio of the Convento de Santa Clara

Overall the winter school experience was a highly enjoyable one which was heightened by the challenge of working on a project in condensed time period with an international team who all brought their different cultural perspectives to the process.