15th Anniversary of CIDEM: from hyper-structures to social construction

XV Aniversario de CIDEM: de las hiper-estructuras a la construcción popular September 1992 marked one of the most difficult eras in Cuban history. This period was called “option zero” which meant zero fuel, zero exterior commerce. Socialism in Eastern Europe had fallen apart like a house of cards. At this very moment, the Central University of Las Villas decided to create the centre for investigation and development of structures and materials, CIDEM, with the mission to focus its investigations towards constructions. 

Since the beginning, one of CIDEM’s principal goals has been to offer specific services that contribute toward solving problems which affect Cuban society. Its principal investigators came from projects that treated of complex designs and structures, like giant parabolic antennas, spatial trusses, high buildings, special foundations, such buildings that were suspended because of the economic crisis.

In these new conditions each person had to rethink and find new ways. At first this wasn’t an easy process, much less was it voluntary. The social advances had to be maintained, among them housing, which had to be done without cement, without steel, but above all, quickly. The country decided to decentralize and hoped that creativity would help solve the housing situation locally. Results appeared quickly: in 1994 more than 59,000 houses were built, a record in recent Cuban history.

CIDEM was able to position itself within this massive movement and put all its effort and knowledge in function of this program, with support from various ministries and local institutions. It was a time of personal sacrifice, poor alimentation, and frequent trips in cars with worn out tires and little gasoline, vehicles that functioned by luck. During these difficult times, the philosophic and material base was created which would become the principal work of CIDEM and its link to practice.

XV Aniversario de CIDEM: de las hiper-estructuras a la construcción popular


International cooperation
The ministries were at a disadvantage as they were under pressure to solve the urgent problems and often neglected important steps in technological processes that resulted in failures, and by the end of 1996 this provoked regression because the quality of materials and constructions were inadequate.

At this time came the first help from beyond. Speaking perfect Spanish, but with a rare accent until then unknown, appeared someone from far-off Switzerland with incredible experience in successful projects. During that period CIDEM functioned as an adoptive child of CECAT in Havana, immersed completely in building up the low cost housing programs throughout the country. Thus began the international era.

The projects
Work in projects allowed successful prototypes of technologies to be launched without having to make concessions to scale. Parallel it was possible to commence a system of commercialization for the new technologies, which internationalized the work of CIDEM and opened new avenues of financing. Contacts were established with strategic partners in Germany and Canada, through which scientifically relevant information could be accessed, and fundamental investigation could begin.

Quickly results where observed: the first three ecomaterials production workshops in the province of Villa Clara helped to alleviate the damage caused by the devastating hurricane “Lili” in 1997. Other workshops were installed in Latin America with positive results. In 1996 CIDEM entered the EcoSur Network for a Sustainable Habitat as one of its principal consultants.

The housing programs
The projects related to hurricane “Mitch” in Central America marked a point of maturity for CIDEM. The architects and engineers linked into social programs and, thereby, were able to implement integrated habitat projects in Nicaragua and Honduras (2000-2005), which included relocation of people and, thus, new villages.  During this same period the project "Waste to Houses" replicated this concept in nine Cuban municipalities, a project that was honored internationally and that has benefited 2,500 families.

Keys to success
The key to success was to maintain the efforts open on all fronts: fundamental investigation was intensified using modern experimental techniques, fabrication and commercialization of machinery was increased, as were national and international consultancies, and an ambitious program of alliances with practical institutions linked to the communities was introduced.

Such determination of the team during these 15 years has been widely recognized. The Cuban scientific system has awarded prizes of the highest categories. Internationally CIDEM has received acknowledgement from the Habitat section of the United Nations, especially the World Habitat Award in 2007. The new generation of young professionals that has integrated into CIDEM faces the challenge of continuing this work without losing the link to the community.

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Víctor Martínez
Civil Engineer
MCR tiles, instruction, quality control, project management.


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