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In Cuba, Architecture and Design Blossom Under New Laws

cuba1This May, visitors were allowed into Havana’s long-defunct Tallapiedra electric plant for the first time since it was shuttered in the 1960s. They could climb the grated stairs to the plant’s nave, see how the light glinted off unchipped white and green tiles set in place in 1915, how tiny, stalky trees had grown out of clumps of dirt where machinery once sat, how the high, church-like central space and the split-level, open workspaces on one side might be adapted to any number of uses. The opening—for locals and some of the thousands of tourists in Cuba for the Twelfth Havana Biennial—was the work of Claudia Castillo and Orlando Inclán, and their eight-year-old think tank, Habana Re-Generación.

When Tallapiedra was constructed in 1915, it was one of the most advanced electric plants of the day, but as technologies changed, its facilities did not. Sometime in the 1960s, it stopped producing electricity, and since then, only the workers at the state-run metal shop on the ground floor—the only reliably safe area of the structure—have had access to it. From the outside, Tallapiedra is giant and fully broken: caved, oxidized gutters sprouting grass from the still-horizontal bits, a solid central nave with perfect, ornate moldings, a sole smokestack hitching up the rest, about ten panels of un-broken glass among its hundreds of window panes. And everyone—Havanans passing by in collective taxis, passengers on the elevated train, sailors on freighters unloading across the bay—has seen bayside Tallapiedra from the outside.

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