Alamar’s Material Warehouse

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Parallel to the Cuban Revolution a reuse and repair mentality emerged among Cubans. In the early days of the revolution American technicians left the island and so did their technical knowledge. Therefore Fidel Castro had to invest in the knowledge of technical education. ‘Worker build your own machinery’ and ‘To beat imperialism in the battle of replacement parts’ were slogans which triggered a makers movement. The inventiveness of Cubans became more explicit during the Special Period, a time of harsh conditions remarked by the lack of products. In order to survive this period the government published ‘El Libro de la Familia’, a handbook to repair, re-use and retrofit stuff around the house. All across the island homes turned into laboratories of DIY innovations. This Cuban ingenuity is known as technological disobedience. A Cuban perceives objects completely different compared to our Western perception. Every object is a collection of smaller pieces and every piece can be reused or re-purposed in different ways.

Unconsciously Cubans created a sustainable reuse society in opposite to our Western throw-away society, which is defined by planned obsolescence. As Cuba is on the brink of opening up to the world it will also open up to new material and capital flows, which at the same time will increase the waste production on the island. Therefore Cuba should respond to the changing conditions. Instead of making the same mistakes our Western throw-away society made,  Cubans should embrace their reuse mentality and be a sustainable example to the world. Instead of land-filling, every object can be reused, repaired, re-purposed or recycled. Alamar’s Material Warehouse incorporates the flows of disregarded materials. It functions as a machine which collects disregarded materials and turns it into new valuable resources through disassembling, recycling and up-cycling. Especially an outskirts of Havana, Alamar, which doesn’t profit from tourism or foreign investment could benefit of a circular economy.

Alienation of waste-typology

‘It’s nearly impossible to observe and understand what takes place in an incinerator or a recycling plant. Outsiders are rarely allowed on-site. The design of the plants, which seldom involves architects, only increases this sense of alienation… Their bleak, unwelcoming architecture makes no gesture to connect with the public, visually or socially; they offer no amenities beyond their core function, no opportunities for visitors or communities to engage, and only minimal integration with their built and natural surroundings.’

(Harvard Design Magazine Issue 40 – The Missing Link: Architecture and Waste Management)

‘Not engaging with waste because it is conveniently hidden away, or because it is considered abject, directly inhibits the design and development of socially and environmentally sustainable and resilient cities.’

(Global Garbage: Urban Imaginaries of Waste, Excess, and Abandonment)

Border condition

Alamar’s Material Warehouse is a mix of different existing typologies. The building is a combination of a container park, a Material Recovery Facility, workshop units and a public warehouse were customers can buy reclaimed objects and materials. As emphasized in the quotes above, waste-management buildings aren’t yet integrated in communities but they are beneficial for Alamar. Not only does it save time for logistics (trucks don’t need to drive outside Havana to landfills) but the facility creates valuable resources from disregarded materials. At the same time the building functions as an education center to raise awareness on the issue of waste and the negative affects if communities don’t properly deal with their waste production. Therefore placing the Material Warehouse on the edge of landscape and city it offers possibilities. Towards the landscape are noisy functions such as the MRF meanwhile situated towards the city are public functions and workspaces. This twofold allows to build closely towards the building without being disturbed by the negative aspects of these facilities.

The exposed machine

In a response to the alienation of this typology the building is designed as an accessible machine. Visitors can experience the activity, flows and logistics of this large infrastructural building. The flows are made visible and visitors can understand how the building works. This exposure is also represented in the use  of  materials; the facade to the outside is perforated metal and towards the central space translucent polycarbonate is used. Through the usage of those materials people can experience the activity behind the facade. Welcome to Alamar’s Material Warehouse where disregarded materials are a valuable resource and not considered as waste.


  • Date: 2017
  • Client: TU Delft
  • Filed under: Architecture