Register: SEP/11/2018, Submit: SEP/11/2018, Eligibility: Professionals, architects, designers, students, enthusiasts; individually, teams up to 4 members, Fee: 60 GBP (Pound sterling) (MAY/14 – JUN/10/2017), 90 GBP (JUN/11 – AUG/31/2017), 120 GBP (SEP/01 – SEP/11/2018), Awards: Winner 2,000 GBP, Runner-up 400 GBP, 6 Honorable Mentions, The People’s Choice Award 100 GBP
Buy any travel book on Havana or Google its top attractions and must-see highlights, and somewhere in the top rankings, you will find the Malecon. This Cuban icon, which began construction in 1901 and was completed in 1959 (the same year as the Cuban Revolution entered Havana), is a sea-hugging avenue approximately 8km (5miles) long on the northern shores of the island’s capital city Havana. It was constructed as a major artery for the city, as well as a sea defence to protect this Caribbean pearl from violent sea storms and floods which frequently hit Havana. It is a symbol and a landmark for this Unesco recognised city of 2.5 million people, so much so that it has earned its status as ‘Havana’s Living Room’ due to its popularity as the prime public area for the Habaneros (citizens of Havana) to live their social and public lives.
The importance of the Malecon for social life in Havana is central and cannot be undermined. The locals use the long promenade and outdoor space of this stretch of road to meet and gather together. The avenue comes to life at sunset with classic American cars cruising along as people muddle together to enjoy the view of the setting sun over the seawall. This is when the Malecon comes to life. It becomes a dance hall, a fishing spot providing food and income for poorer families, an outside lounge bar for friends to share a drink or two and, when the mood strikes, a romantic hotspot for couples to canoodle in the glow of the Caribbean setting sun.
It is a major location in the city where foreign visitors and locals come together and interact with one another away from the touristy sections of town. This is where the culture of real Havana blossoms. But visit Havana and you will see that reality of this iconic stretch of sun-soaked road is far from the picture-perfect scene one imagines to find. The Malecon presents itself as a derelict shadow of its former glory, lacking amenities and character. Its once exuberant architecture is literally crumbling to the ground. Its open spaces are empty and desolate. It’s leisurely boulevard gone.
Today, the Malecon is in desperate need of some TLC. Its iconic status is just a thin facade that does little to hide the fact that this city is packed with potential which is going to waste. It is a sad reminder of past glories when Havana used to be the pride and pearl of the Caribbean and its architecture, together with its urban fabric, oozed of its riches in flamboyant elegant styles of the latest trends. The once fashionable architecture which fronts this stretch of coastal road is derelict. Buildings – who’s tired facades still conserve the grandeur of lost times – are now falling into complete disrepair. Large open areas, which the Malecon creates as it snakes around its coastal rim, are empty, bleak cracked concrete islands screaming for a renewed burst of life.
Coupled with this, is the fact that it is doing little to nothing to protect the city as a seawall. The Malecon’s role as sea defence for Havana is today largely redundant. It does little to nothing to keep at bay sea swells which result in large parts of Havana to be submerged by annual floods. The worst affected area is Central Havana, where the Malecon is at its oldest and frailest. The irony is that this part of the city is the one that is in greatest need of protection from the dangers of the sea. Equally, it is this stretch of the Malecon which is most commonly used by the Habaneros as their social space.
It is safe to say that one of the last bastions in favour of the Malecon’s condition today (its use as an effective seawall) is failing under the pressures of a more volatile environment and signs of ageing.
What we need is a Malecon revival. In this competition, we want to start a new Cuban Revolution. Only this time, we are using creativity to bring about some much needed urban change to Havana’s complex urban and social history.
With three key concepts in mind, being protection, engagement and identity, we ask you:
How can architecture and design pave the way for a rebirth of the Malecon?
How can the Malecon become an effective protective barrier for the sea, while at the same time embracing its role as Havana’s Living Room?
How can it give Havana – and its people – a truly iconic seafront promenade worthy of its legendary status and propel it into the 21st century?
And finally, how can the Malecon become a symbol of Cuban rebirth which both celebrates its colourful traditions and at the same time embrace a new, more optimistic, more connected and better-equipped future?
So this competition focuses on three areas: protection in the form of a renewed sea defence, engagement in the form of new cultural social spaces along the Malecon, and identity in the form of resurrecting an old icon back to life and defining a new beginning for Havana in the 21st century.