Cuban Architects Lobby for the Right to Work Privately

Photo: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS

This old demand took the spotlight on social media again, after architecture was included on the list of banned self-employment activities.

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban architects are giving economic, social and practical reasons, as they call for the legalization of private practice in their profession. In recent weeks, this old demand has taken the public spotlight on social media.

This debate was rekindled on February 10th after a list was published naming the 124 activities that can’t be exercised privately, as part of the reforms announced for the non-State-led sector. Private architecture and engineering practices remain banned.

According to the newly stated restrictions, the following won’t be allowed in the private sector: Architecture consultancy activities that include designing buildings and drawing up building plans, urban planning and landscape architecture.

Nor is engineering design allowed that includes civil, hydraulic and traffic engineering projects, water management projects, electrical and electronics, mechanical, industrial and systems engineering projects, or construction-related project management.

However, the private practice of other trades linked to construction, such as bricklaying, plumbing and electricity work, are now legal. Design work has also been authorized.

Several professional groups were hoping the new regulations would stabilize the situation for different independent practices. Ones that were in a legal limbo up until recently. But instead of a liberalization their hopes frustrated. Before they weren’t specifically banned, but they weren’t officially recognized. Now they are clearly illegal.

Over the last decade, the number of independent professionals has grown within this insufficient legal framework. The boom in construction needs within the private sector and general population was the cause. The number of independent studios grew, although always limited in the services they can offer.

The Cuban Studies Group of Architecture (GECA) brings together many of these professional associations, and held different exhibitions and professional gatherings last year.

Some of its board members, such as representatives from the National Association of Architects and Building Engineers in Cuba, presented some of their concerns to the minister of Construction, Rene Mesa, on February 26th.

While they haven’t shared details about what was discussed with government agencies, two posts on GECA’s Facebook page in the past few days, reveal some of the reasons that support their appeal for the list of banned work to be amended.

Why do private architecture practices need to be authorized?

In the first post, GECA says independent architecture can’t be ignored in Cuba. “How can we aspire to have beautiful and organized cities in the future, if we don’t depend on independent architects? How can we aspire to build 300,000 homes with people’s own resources, without the help of independent architects?

In a second post, the group of professionals explained some of the social and economic benefits that could result from authorizing private architectural and engineering practices.

The advantages they listed included the opportunity to create mixed entities, ties between private groups and state-led companies to develop complex projects.

They said that, in the face of the need to satisfy growing demands for professional work, “decentralizing architecture would be the right path, not only when it comes to large projects, but also small-scale architecture projects that make up the city.”

According to the general housing policy, 39% of 3.8 million houses in the country up until June 2017, were in a fair and poor technical state. Meanwhile, the housing deficit rose to 929,695 houses.

“We agree with the social contract that a profession has to be useful to society, but we don’t agree with the way they are hired. Freeing independent activity for architects and engineers will allow more ideas and proposals. These will have a positive impact on the social circles outside of the State’s reach,” the post says.

According to what authorities told GECA’s board during the meeting that took place in late February, there is a government committee that is discussing complaints made by this and other groups. They also said that they would have an answer as soon as possible.

Other reasons on social media that back the petition

Architect and restorer Universo Garcia believes that “in order for society to face great economic challenges, that demand better participation from citizens, all productive activities should join this effort, without exceptions.”

This recognition would also be a “way to develop and conserve the professional talent trained in our universities, which is leaving more and more every day,” he says.

Meanwhile, sociologist Carlos Garcia Pleyan questions the logic behind upholding a restriction like this. “The damage can already be seen in our cities in improvised work, in the violation of regulations, botched jobs and aesthetic aggression in our social environment. There are plenty of examples,” he says.

He also says that state companies don’t guarantee this service to the population. Likewise, the government’s community architects are insufficient.

Other opinions point out the clear benefits for the city’s socio-economic development by allowing independently work. They further note it would be to establish a mechanism for these professionals to comply with the law and regulations that ensure quality and safe work.

The list of banned activities “could be amended as it is reconciliated with legal regulations,” currently being drafted.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.