~ marzo 19, 2014 ~
In an era where nothing lasts, finding a building with a hundred years of history is almost unbelievable. But when we take a careful look at the facade and interiors of Concordia 418 all starts to make sense. The Camagüey mansion, built in 1913, has seen the comings and goings of Havana’s history and thousands of Cubans who have walked through it for a century already.
However, for a long time its structure and architectural values suffered the same shortcomings as its inhabitants and the lack of maintenance worn out the strength of one of the most important palaces of the city.
To restore the vitality and beauty to the building that houses the restaurant, last year La Guarida’s owners decided to undertake a complex restoration work. With the support of the residents of the building and planning by the h [ r ] g_arquitectura group, the most complex tasks were almost completed. Now, what remains for them is the most demanding challenge of all, to keep it like that.
On the details and importance of the project we talked with the architect Orlando Inclan Castaneda, the group’s coordinator.
How was the group created? What elements distinguish its work?
In our case we are a group of young Cuban architects, based in Havana. In 2007 we created the Havana team (re) generation (h [r] g) to study, nonprofit, what might be happening to the future of the city in the new cultural, economic and social framework. Our studies have been dealing with academic proposals.
This group opened another subsidiary that is h [r] g_arquitectura to begin to cover the demand of the country’s economic opening has generated. Many people began to realize the need for advice from designers and architects to take action in their homes or business premises. This intervention is already noticeable, you can tell whether a space was planned or not.
The restoration of the property located at Concordia 418 is one of the most important jobs you have done. How did h [ r ] g_arquitectura get involved in this project?
We personally met Enrique and he asked us to help him to work in the process of restoring the building in Concordia 418. For us it was a challenge for all what the building represents to the city and La Guarida as a cultural product. As young architects we are, the opportunity to participate in such a unique property was very important. We had to go in discovering its spatiality, its architectural elements in the functioning of La Guarida itself. Understanding the relationship between the building and the restaurant was imperative to provide good solutions.
This building is completely atypical due to its history, its values and the characteristics that distinguish it. Concordia 418 has always had very interesting uses, such being doctor Laredo’s office or the parties it hosted as Camagüey mansion. It really is a nice building nicely suit for social activities and has fit perfectly as an ambassador for the film Strawberry and Chocolate to finally create that perfect pairing with La Guarida.
What are the complexities that you have faced during the restoration and creation of new areas in La Guarida ?
That was very difficult, because many people do not understand that there is a place like la Guarida in a building under these conditions. Luckily, most of its visitors are able to experience the magic of the place, and we have to understand it to provide food service or woodworking, or reproducing elements or proposing furniture or a color.
Concordia 418is a complicated property, beam and slab, a construction system that was designed for a certain period of time but already expired. The poor state of much of the elements called for replacement. Most of the plumbing and electrical networks were restored and we remade or replace the ceilings in several apartments. In addition, the restaurant’s gallery was renovated, the kitchen was expanded, and we created some new areas such as the bathroom, the bar in room 20 and the deck. In the latter two we still need to complete some constructive and setting tasks.
Although the bar , bathroom and deck are now inserted in the building and in the atmosphere of la Guarida, we want them to be felt like part of the cultural product that is promoted there , to support it and strengthen it . The conceptual clarity of Enrique and Odeysis has been instrumental in this regard.
We tried in the bar to have some reminiscences of the movie (it is Nancy’s room, played by Mirta Ibarra). This space, although secondary, introduces you to the phenomenon of La Guarida, has very sober, yet dramatic, tones. Dark colors, wood and large mirrors make try to create the right atmosphere. As the character of Nancy does, that without being a leading role, it is always remembered.
Similarly, in the deck we are seeking for people to see the city, strengthening that intimate relationship you can have with the people who inhabit it, something the film also inspires. We aim at this act of revision to enable people to participate in the internal dialogue of confrontation between the past and the future of this “wonderful city”. Counterpoint between love and neglect.
How important is in your opinion the project undertaken by the owners of La Guarida?
A key point is the social commitment involved in the saving of this building, something to credit the owners, Enrique and Odeysis , for and all who have contributed to this effort . We must understand the importance of the building to be saved, because La Guarida cannot survive without the building, or the building without the restaurant.
The social role of saving the heritage, of relocating part of the profits to restore the property not only speaks of a social commitment and with heritage but demonstrates an awareness of the values of the building itself, and it is important that this may have a positive effect elsewhere, it would be the best way to recover Havana.
Institutions such as the Office of the Historian make a huge effort to rescue the architectural and urban heritage of our city, but it is not enough. It’s very large the amount of work we have, because our heritage is also huge. If more people don’t get involved, it will be impossible, not only saving it but keeping it.
In Concordia 418 this was achieved. All residents are aware of the effort, the money, and the energy that involves restoring a building of this type. They were a key part of the transformation of the building, supported the work and left their homes when necessary. Only if they are part of that act, it can be understood in all its magnitude, which is simply to put the best of our human condition in terms of the nation.