MUEBLEPARED: A Proposal (1971).

by Reinaldo N. Togores.

Versión Española


On July 27, 1967, a group of works was inaugurated at  Grantierra, a remote area in the eastern end of the island, which included a small village which I designed using "Sandino" System prefabricated houses (originally known by the name of Its author, Architect José Novoa) as well as 9 mountain internships and 8 nurseries. In his inaugural speech, Fidel Castro announced his housing construction plans: "As of next year we will be able to increase housing construction greatly and by 1970 we shall be able to construct some 100,000 living quarters a year. Therefore, between 1970 and 1980 1 million houses must be built in this country." This would be possible affirmed, thanks to the "mechanization of construction".

At that time, "mechanization of construction" in housing usually meant the technology introduced in the USSR by the Nikita Khrushchev administration, brought to Cuba with its incorporation to the socialist bloc in the '60s: those popularly known there as Khrushchyovkas (in Russian: хрущёвка), prefabricated apartment buildings built from large concrete panels. These buildings were originally considered in the USSR as a temporary solution until the housing shortage was definitively resolved with what was expected to be the impetuous development of the socialist economy.

Many of us considered this technology -which was promoted by the Ministry for Construction (MICONS)- inadequate because of its rigidity and high cost, as it used heavy panels of reinforced concrete not only for external closures but also for all of the interior partitions. There were proposals in the university environment of other prefabricated systems but they had little acceptance by the administration. An example is in the Multiflex system, developed under the guidance of Architect Fernando Salinas in whose furnishings our design team worked.

In order to present our ideas on the use of lightweight partition systems and furniture as a means to structure the dwelling's interior space we prepared an exhibition in the halls of the  Furniture Industry Prototype Workshop on the Almendares River. Here a complete housing equipment solution was proposed, advanced both from the technological point of view and in terms of design quality.

The prototypes included in this exhibition were, from a technological point of view, the result of more than a year of research. As a result, we had reached a quite precise definition of the materials whose production was necessary, of the most appropriate technologies in each case and some general principles of construction and design. This included studies of demand forecasting, capacities to be installed, etc. Some fundamental theoretical definitions that guided our work were derived from this: the recognition of storage as the main unresolved problem then -and even now-, the distinction between storage furniture and other furnishings, and the contribution of lamps -illumination- and industrially produced graphics -color- in the characterization of the housing environment and its possible variations.
The proposed system of modular panels used the most advanced hardware then available1 that were imported especially for these prototypes, being the first time they were used in the country, then unknown to most of the furniture industry technicians. In fact, they are still the same now used in modular systems from companies such as IKEA.

Unlike other elitist productions, based on the use of precious woods and natural leather intended for the offices of the senior leaders of the bureaucracy or the export market, we called upon the use of industrial materials like aluminum or steel tubing, canvas and vinyl cord as a way to satisfy the needs of the average Cuban. The exhibition intended to further demonstrate the possibility of a single solution to two problems, storage and space division. As a kind of manifesto, we explained our views on the panel that gave access to the exhibition, which read:

the built hollow is not housing's solution. The function of housing is not just protecting from the external environment.
HOUSING IS A CONTAINER FOR MAN AND HIS THINGS BOTH USEFUL AND USELESS.
when using things man engages in different groups of activities. each activity group needs its space and each thing requires its place.
two problems:
  1. storage
  2. the subdivision of space
OUR MUEBLEPARED PROPOSAL:
  • a single solution to two problems
  • a single material: laminated bagasse particleboard
  • a single technology: panel sawing - slotting - edgebanding - drilling - in automated continuous lines
  • a single product: standard modular panels
  • multiple uses: residential - schools - offices - hospitals - libraries - etc.
FROM THIS MUEBLEPARED SYSTEM, ITS ADDITIONAL COMPONENTS -TABLE, CHAIRS, ARMCHAIRS AND BEDS-, ITS LAMPS, GRAPHICS AND COLOR, THIS STRUCTURE HAS BEEN COMPOSED:
THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW, FOR TODAY
Our proposal, so remote from the official line represented by the all powerful MICONS, was not welcomed by the administrative structures of the time. Everything remained as prototypes and unique specimens. In none of the reviews about Cuban industrial design in those days are we mentioned. Today we vindicate its existence with the few pictures preserved in our archives. Let it be so.

Photos: R. Togores