ARBOLEDAS, A NEW TOWN IN CUBA
and the Individual Dwelling:
Alamar. New development started in the 1970s after the
Having looked at the general plan, let's take a moment to look
at the other end of the problem, the individual dwelling.
began our design work by looking at what was commonly being
done in Cuba at the time.
story housing block.
of the new building technology after the revolution was imported
from the Soviet Union since trade with the U.S. was cut off.
It often was not well adapted to Cuba's climate or culture.
The unshaded glass of this south facade absorbs solar heat and
makes an excellent greenhouse, practical for a cold northern
climate but terrible for the hot tropical climate of Cuba.
Panel VI prefab construction system
Cuba had a highly developed construction industry, focused on
concrete, with a number of standard designs they repeated across
Starting With What's There
36. GP VI standard plan.
Our approach is not to throw existing systems out, but to study
them so we can discover what is good and keep it and what is bad
so we can correct it. For housing we looked at the standard
systems and chose one that we thought offered the most advantages.
The system we chose was the GP-VI, a prefabricated concrete panel
system (see figure at left).
This design has several features which are very good and which we
wanted for our housing. The features we wanted to preserve are:
buildings, one apartment deep. This is perhaps the most important
feature providing superior natural lighting, cross ventilation
(for natural cooling), more diverse views, outside windows for
every room, and benefits in improved sound and visual privacy.
Entry Stairwells/No Halls. The entrance to each apartment is via
a single stairwell rather than hallways serving an entire floor.
This provides an entrance superior to the usual apartment building
entrance in several ways. The entrance occurs at a central, interior
position in the apartment which provides good interior circulation.
The single stairwell serves a relatively small number of apartments
(8 in a 4 story building) giving a more intimate and personal
entry. Hallways do not pass in front of the apartments giving
Each apartment has its own balcony allowing a bit of outdoor private
space. This is especially welcome in the tropics.
louvered windows. This feature is common to many of the existing
buildings but should be preserved. Glass in general allows for
undesirable solar heat gain, and fixed glass does not allow controlled
ventilation. The wood louver provides insulation, superior sun
protection, and allows controlled ventilation.
Problems & Suggested Improvements
These buildings also have a number of problems which we undertook
to resolve. We feel it is important that these improvements
are based on what has already been done, taking advantage of the achievements
made so far, and retaining the best features of the existing systems.
Perhaps one of the weaknesses of the new systems created in the last
25 years is that they did not adequately incorporate the best features
of previous traditional building.
suggested improvements are summarized in the sketch below:
Rear of existing buildings.
Lively outdoor spaces. One of the most severe
problems with the existing buildings is the lack of integration
with the outdoor areas, especially at the back of the buildings
(see photo on left). The back facade is completely flat with
little visual connection and no physical access to the space
behind the building. As a result this outdoor area is
not used, becomes unsightly and is a waste of an important
38. Suggested Improvements.
To alter this situation we have proposed several improvements:
Access to the back of the building at each stairwell.
service patios for the ground floor apartments allowing
for small vegetable gardens and increased living space.
(These apartments are currently the least preferred. This
added amenity can help balance this situation.)
Providing a closure around the space behind the buildings,
especially when two buildings are back to back, to create
a private outdoor space for the occupants of the building.
This space provides garden space for people on the upper
floors, play area for very small children, clothes drying
areas, common space for community activities, meetings,
space for community activities, meetings, parties, etc.
We have incorporated into the apartment building a covered common
area for community activities, meetings, parties, etc. This space
is open to a small plaza at the front which allows for overflow
at large gatherings as well as outdoor activities. We have also
incorporated into this space a community laundry facility with an
automatic washing machine. In most buildings, a few of the families
will have semi-automatic washing machines. These machines are not
very convenient (compared to fully automatic machines) and cost
more than a single community machine. The communal washing area
can become a social gathering point with close relation to the play
area for small children and the private common area.
for ground floor apartments. In front of the building, the ground
floor apartments have patios with small gardens which the users
will construct themselves. This provides a benefit to the apartment
occupant, who has a garden and more living space, and also to other
people in the neighborhood, who can enjoy the gardens which are
created in front of the buildings.
cooling & lighting. We have introduced several features to enhance
the natural cooling & lighting of the buildings:
on ends of buildings.
on walls & trellises for cooling.
paint to reduce solar gain, especially on roofs and surfaces
with heavy solar exposure to reduce solar gain.
6' balcony. The current balcony sizes are too small to be
useable. A larger minimum size makes this a valuable space.
balcony & living room. Provision for opening the wall between
living room and balcony allows incorporation of the balcony space
in the living space and vice versa.
or open kitchen to dining/living. Opening the kitchen to the
dining area gives a greater sense of space to both areas, increases
the working area for the kitchen, and allows social contact between
the cook and other people. As some Cubans prefer the kitchen to
be private, this opening must be optional.
construction. We want to maximize the users' participation both
in the design and the construction of the community. This participation
creates an environment more closely adapted to people's needs and
desires, it is cheaper, more personalized and varied. The self-help
elements adopted so far include the ground floor patios and gardens,
and the private outdoor common areas with their community gardens,
play areas, clothes drying, etc.