Our Architectural Patrimony in Danger

Among the many other losses, our architectural patrimony is a constant throughout the island. Years of lack of maintenance, general apathy, and the actions of leaders and officials with an excess of initiative but a lack of a citizen’s sensibility, have led to this. Every day we see buildings that one constituted the hallmarks of our towns and cities disappear, some demolished, others no longer in the uses for which they were built.

So we have a Capitol with no practical use, a Presidential Palace in use as a museum, a rundown Single Market of Supplies, historic ruins where once there was the Trotcha Hotel, a Campoamor Theater destroyed, residences turned into rooming houses, vacant lots where there were palaces and colonial home, a Marti Theater in eternal virtual repair, a park without public access where once was the Alaska Building, cinemas recycled as housing, et cetera. The Historian of the City has saved some in the old town, but the city is not only the historical district and some isolated buildings.

Now they say that’s what they’re going to do with the Pedro Borras Astorga Children’s Hospital in El Vedado, a valuable art deco building, due to its deplorable condition (lack of maintenance) and its having been seriously affected by the explosions they used to build tunnels in the vicinity for the  shelters (this they do not say), and the Hotel Internacional in Varadero, the building that is emblematic of the beach. Many voices of responsible citizens are rising up to prevent their being demolished, but a lot more should rise up, so that these barbaric acts do not go forward, and there are already other buildings that face the same risk .

For some people, to destroy what they didn’t build is easy: no feeling or memory binds them to these buildings. It would be desirable, when someone intends to demolish something, that they be required to substantiate the need for demolition and submit the draft of what they plan to replace it with, and that this be discussed and approved by experts and authorities, prior to authorization for the first sledgehammer blow. That would avoid the proliferation of vacant lots, dump sites, and shabby parks, that don’t even deserve to be called such.

Our architectural heritage is an important legacy of our ancestors, our grandparents and parents. Our duty is to preserve it for ourselves and for future generations, not demolish it. To talk about aging is ridiculous: with that criteria the pyramids of Egypt wouldn’t exist nor any of the ancient works carried out by mankind which today are the pride of the world. Since we failed to maintain and prevent systematic deterioration, we should at least be capable of not letting them destroy what little remains standing. It is a simple act of civility, respect and love for what is ours.

May 23 2011

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