In quest of the good life - in Cuba

Education and students

32 students and four teachers from the postgraduate programme, Political Architecture travelled to Havana to study how architecture can create new opportunities for the population of a country in a state of rapid political development. 

Architects must have in-depth knowledge, not only of a place’s specific geography, but also of its socio-economic, cultural and political conditions, if they are to create architectural solutions that can generate real change. But you cannot acquire that knowledge sat behind a desk at Holmen. That is why, in recent years, students on the Political Architecture postgraduate programme have been going on field trips to countries far away from Denmark for a close encounter with their subject area. 

This year the programme has set up shop in Havana, the capital of Cuba. Here, 32 students and four teachers, in cooperation with Cuban experts and universities and in dialogue with the local population, will set out to identify challenges and potential, and examine how to deal with them, process them and turn them into architecture. The students studied the country back at home but have not committed themselves in advance in terms of the issues they will go into in depth. And that is precisely the point.

In quest of the good life

“In Scandinavia, we can easily have a tendency to believe that we have a patent on ‘the good life’ and that ‘in every Cuban there is a Scandinavian waiting to come out’. We do not believe that. We believe that as architects we can create new opportunities for people, if we do our utmost to understand the context they live in, and listen to the dreams and aspirations they have for their own future. That is the ambition of Political Architecture – to create architecture that can lead to real change, and not just reproduce a site’s existing realities or an architect’s own notion of what the good life is,” says Niels Grønbæk, Associate Professor in the Institute of Architecture and Culture, who heads the programme with Dag Petersson, another Associate Professor. 

Cuba is one of only two remaining red countries on the political world map. But parallel to the country’s official, centrally planned economy, there is a capitalist undercurrent, which has gained a lot of ground in recent years and is accordingly making an increasing mark on Cuban society and leading to change.

“Cuba constitutes an interesting architectural subject area, because the country is in the midst of a process of change. We believe that we can discern potential in the field that has not yet been released, but which we, in the midst of it, can spot and turn into architectural form – buildings, plans and strategies that can pave the way for new opportunities for the Cuban man or woman in the street,” says Niels Grønbæk.

From Bangladesh to Brabrand

*The postgraduate programme has previously been on field trips to Georgia and Bangladesh. But there is certainly a future scenario that would involve the programme setting up shop in Danish towns and regions. The point of the methodological approach in the Political Architecture programme is being to apply it to all political contexts. “The fundamental premise is to carry out in-depth examinations of a place’s socio-economic and political conditions, along with its physical, material and spatial structures and characters – via studies, analysis and field work. On that basis it then aims to create architectural solutions, which not only reproduce the reality of the place, but which also pave the way for new opportunities for people. It is a method we believe can make things happen anywhere – be it Bangladesh or Brabrand,” says Niels Grønbæk.

Facts: KADK in Cuba

The Political Architecture postgraduate programme is led by Associate Professors, Dag Petersson and Niels Grønbæk. In addition to these two, the Non-Permanent Teacher, Olympia Nouska and the Teaching Assistant Professor, Runa Johannessen are also taking part in the fieldwork in the Cuban capital, Havana.