Lebbeus Woods’ proposed Walls of Change in La Habana Vieja, Cuba

In Havana, some years ago, it was proposed that a series of walls be constructed within and around the old city,La Habana Vieja. This section of the modern city of Havana dates back to the beginning of  The New World in the 16th century and still has buildings from that period as well as succeeding centuries, up to the present. Many are in a state of decay from lack of upkeep and restoration, simply because the communist government does not have the funds to do so, and the only private development is by foreign investors building luxury hotels and other sites for foreign tourism. At the time of the proposal, the old city was populated by an economic and racial underclass that foreign capital had no interest in helping, so that any effort to save this unique city-within-a-city, would have to be from the ground up—not counting on much top-down funding by government or investors.

Ideally, the proposed walls would contain some infrastructural purposes: water purification, at the least, the generation of electricity, like an ‘urban battery,’ at the most. This means that these would be ‘hi-tech’ walls, into which individual dwellings would plug, as self-sustaining urban units. A good deal of clever engineering and sophistication in construction would be required to build them. Professionals, whether public or private, would have to be involved in the design and the supervision of construction. Their services could be donated to the project of saving this endangered district, or underwritten by international grants. The point is, the proposed urban walls would act as generators—or, more precisely, as re-generators—of the old city.

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