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UEL architecture students inspired by field trip to Havana

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Master's students research history of social clubs in the Cuban capital

A group of architecture master’s students from the University of East London (UEL) have spent nine days in Havana, Cuba, researching the history and future emergence of social clubs as the country tries to move away from the nearly 50 years of communist rule under Fidel Castro. 

The trip saw 17 students from Unit 9 on the MArch degree programme travel the 4,500 miles to the Caribbean with UEL Senior Lecturer Dr Harald Trapp and architect Brian Hoy, of Conibere Phillips Architects.

Dr Trapp explained, “This year the students have been given the brief to design a social club. 

“This form of association originated in the late 19th century in Great Britain as workers of the rapidly expanding industries came together to establish places for their recreation, leisure, education and sports. 

“In analogy to the gentlemen’s clubs, these new associations called themselves ‘workingmen’s clubs’ and often provided the only positive option for workers to spend their free time.”

Cuba has its own history of similar institutions, which, in the context of the socialist re-organisation of the country, disappeared after the Cuban revolution in 1959.  

Dr Trapp said, “As the country is slowly trying to redefine its social and economic organisation, new social clubs could become complementary to the ‘cooperativas’, which allow private business initiatives. 

“For this reason, Unit 9 did extensive research in Havana, meeting with local residents in the Jesus/Maria neighbourhood, and are currently developing a variety of schemes for a new form of social club.”

Leonardo Vladimir Castro Paredes, 28, was one of the students on the field trip. He said, “Cuba was a very stimulating experience, not only because of its architecture – a unique mixture of different periods and colours that only Havana could venture to do without making it look odd – but also because its unique culture and people, who are the essence of this city. 

“The contact with the real people of La Habana, the ones who are living daily in very difficult conditions, and the visits to their derelict streets and homes are the threads that I will be using to sew and shape the brief of my project.”