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Book Review: Frauen erneuern Havanna by Christine Heidrich

Paseo del Prado @Ewa Maria Wolanska

Editor and architect Christine Heidrich is the founder of a company that creates concepts, designs, colour tones, and atmospheres for architecture, exhibitions, productions and city spaces. Texts for this tome were provided by her and Irén Blanco-Inceosman, Maria Victoria Zardoya Loureda, and Peter Widmer. Moreover, there is also a series of very well-composed photographs by Ewa Maria Wolanska, with informative explanations on how they came about by Sylvia Claus

My interest in this book is personal – I know Havana from various stays, it is the city where I got married but haven’t visited for quite some years. And, needless to say, the exceptionally well-crafted photographs bring back lots of memories. That not all Cubans are fond of living in the old town, that quite some prefer, as I have heard, more solid structures.

Yet this tome is something entirely different, it is about aspects of Havana I’ve never thought of – I have no special affinity for architecture but like to be inspired by aficionados. And so, to spend time with this very well-designed book is above all a learning experience. It was for instance new to me (although not surprising) that women in executive positions in the building industry are in Cuba in the majority (contrary to the rest of the world where they are in the minority).

Uferpromenade Malecón@Ewa Maria Wolanska

Havana’s old town is considered one of the greatest living museums of architecture in the world, the press release informs me. The variety of architectural styles is stunning, the colours a joy and there’s something special in the air that can only be felt and not put into words (but it’s to do with a certain lightness of spirit). The effort to preserve and restore this cultural treasure is mainly led by women.

This book portrays 12 women architects and engineers as well as the buildings in old Havana that they restored and/or reconstructed. Since I look at the pictures from a photo-perspective, I’m especially impressed by the masterful use of light and colours. And, by the excellent framing. 

Vivienda Amargura, Innenhof @Christine Heidrich

The portraits are followed by excerpts from interviews with five of the twelve women, architect  Perla Rosales Aguirreurreta (“It is much more difficult to direct intellectuals and architects than  construction workers when doing restoration work”), architect Tatiana Fernández de los Santos (“I’m not the kind of boss who arrives at the last minute, I’m leading by example.”), engineer Johanna Aedo Gutiérrez (“In all things of life people have to recognise that you are competent to make them follow your lead.”), architect Norma Pérez-Trujillo Tenorio (“It is important that there is  architecture from each time that consciously embraces the city code and nonetheless insert its own ideas.”), and architect Zoila Cuadras Sola (“Many residents thought it not possible to restore these buildings.”)

Lots of interesting information can also be found under the heading “In our country you always work as a team.” Architect Irén Blanco-Inceosman answers at length questions by editor Christine Heidrich in regards to architecture in Cuba and the role of women architects. Most fascinating I thought that there’s a job waiting for all university graduates (in architecture or any other field), guaranteed by the state. And, when asked what distinguishes Cuban female architects from their colleagues in other countries, Irén Blanco-Inceosman responded: “I think it is the sense of community – in Cuba, we colleagues support each other very strongly.”

This is a most remarkable work that – apart from the superb photographs – provides much detailed information about Cuban architecture since the Revolution, on how architecture is practised on a daily basis and on the role of women in Cuban macho society (machos, by the way, differ considerably from country to country).

Frauen erneuern Havanna: Architektinnen, Ingenieurinnen und ihre Bauwerke im architektonischen Weltkulturerbe der Hauptstadt.
by Christine Heidrich
Kehrer, Heidelberg 2020


About Hans Durrer

Hans Durrer is an author and addiction counsellor based in Switzerland. www.hansdurrer.com/, 12-step-addiction-treatment.blogspot.ch/. Two of his books are in English: Ways of Perception, Bangkok 2006; Framing the World, Houston 2011.

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