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In the prevailing construction many walls were built with brick or concrete block.  The standard practice had been to build the wall with brick or block and then cover it with stucco.  The result was that the brick and concrete block buildings looked the same as the prefab concrete buildings.  I suggested, that since we were using brick and block, we might use them exposed to take advantage of  their special character and texture and give variety to our buildings.  The architects  replied that the brick was of low quality.  When I told them that in the U.S. people paid extra for old used brick, they burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Nevertheless, we explored the possibilities.

  Integrating Design & Construction.


We wanted the active participation of the construction workers in the creative process.  We wanted architects, builders, engineers and planners working together  in an integrated, interactive process.  

Early on, in a meeting with the architects and builders, we were discussing the use of brick and concrete block.    I asked everyone to think of the best or most interesting example of the use of brick or block they knew of.  We then organized a trip to go to each of these places and at each spot ask the question, "What can we learn from this example?  What can we use?"  It was significant that this meeting and trip included both construction workers and design professionals.  This was not usual.  More conventionally it would be taken that the designers were the authority.  They would give instructions and the workers would carry them out.  This impacted that social standard and to some degree everybody initially felt uncomfortable.  However, as soon as we started looking at examples, everybody's thoughts started racing and soon we were brainstorming together.  The result was that many creative ideas came from the construction workers and many of the construction details were worked out by them.  Another result was more creative ideas from the designers and more respect and interest from the workers in carrying them out.

Sometimes the process became very spontaneous.  The little pyramids on this wall just appeared one day.  Some of the construction workers came up with the idea and did it.  The architect liked it so they stayed. 

Bricks were typically delivered to the site in dump trucks which would dump them quickly helter-skelter into a large pile.  One of the women architects noticed that as a result a large number of the bricks were broken.  She had suggested that more care be taken unloading the bricks but her suggestion went unheeded.  When next truck came with bricks, she and another young woman architect unloaded the bricks themselves breaking almost none.  Thereafter, without further comment, bricks were unloaded carefully by all the workers. 

It is significant that the construction workers in the microbrigades were not professional builders.  They had to learn as they went.  However, our team had a wonderful dedication and enthusiasm.  The participation and interaction of all members in design and construction, as well as the fact that the people building would ultimately live there, must have had an impact.  You could see the learning process in the buildings where the upper floors were better built than the first floor.

The quality of construction that we obtained was quite high.  I remember commenting to one of the Cuban building officials that the quality of construction was quite good.  He said, "It is the best in Havana."  

The architects and builders were creative in their detailing of the buildings.

Using simple materials in varied ways with careful craftsmanship.

Looking from open stairway to "private common space" between buildings.

 We insisted that the architects participate in the construction.  I remember one of the young women architects puzzling over a brick window detail she was working on.  She asked me about it.  I said, "Build it."  I felt some trepidation asking this delicate young woman to pickup brick and mortar  However, that was my problem, not hers and she went out on the site and built several alternatives to her detail.  What she came up with in her experiment was excellent and after that her designs took a leap forward.

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