Completion of the work on the Spanish Embassy in Havana

Last April, Kalam’s work on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation was received in the former Velasco Sarrá Palace in Havana, home of the Spanish Embassy in Cuba.

This delivery concluded the work of restoring all the building’s enclosures, roofs and façades, both exterior and in the patio.

The building was built in 1912 by the architects José Mato Sequeiro and Francisco Ramírez Ovando.  Its fortunate location, on one of the most beautiful corners of Havana, allows one to see its balconies the Morro Lighthouse, the walls of the Fortresses of La Cabaña and La Punta, one of the ends of the “El Malecón” and the sea entering the bay of Havana.

The palace suffered damages from environmental factors.  In the environment where it is located, there is a lot of salt in the atmosphere, which together with the wind and rain, cause the stone to deteriorate and the corrosion and oxidation of the metallic elements, whether they are internal reinforcements, anchor rods, metal joists or grids affecting the elements where they are present or where they are anchored or received.  This has especially compromised safety and the conservation of the building itself.

On the roof, these factors were combined with others, such as the lack of maintenance, inadequate construction, lack of expansion joints or lack of consideration for climate, illumination and telecommunications facilities. In addition, the absence of thermal insulation material, together with the use of artificial air conditioning systems, has caused problems with the structural and roofing elements with the temperature differences between the interior and exterior.

In work was structured in phases, beginning with the conservation work on the turret and the columns on the third and fourth levels.  Work them continued on the interior patios and ended with the restoration of the outer façades, both the two most decorative and those that overlook the exterior patio with galleries closed by a system of wood carpentry.

The turret was in very poor structural condition.  Reinforcements had to be made to confine it by its exterior and its interior, completely replacing the highly deteriorated structure. Work was performed on its exterior finishes, doing on-site modelling to recover its volume, characterized by the prefabricated covering of imitation tiles, as well as the rest of the ornamental elements, balusters, florones and sills that had deteriorated.

Work proceeded to the cleaning of the coatings of the volumes on the third and fourth levels, which had been detached or were in danger of doing so.  The wooden carpentry was also replaced and the ornaments in poor condition were restored.

The finishing of the roof has been completely redone.  A waterproofing sheet has been installed to improve tightness, adding the necessary expansion joints and finishing with ceramic tiles with spike rigging, as is traditional on roofs in Havana.

In terms of the facilities, the air conditioning has been reorganized to be more in line with the historical value of the building, replacing the existing system with a new centralized system to eliminate the individual units on the façade balconies.

As with the rest of the complex, those ornaments that were irrecoverable or whose reintegration was not possible were replaced.  Restoration mortar was used and the supports were mended with fibber glass rods and resins and copper wires. This solution was adopted in the recovery of the rest of the architectural volumes, such as the florones or pinnacles.

In the interior patios, it has been necessary to completely redo the galleries, as they were completed damaged by the corrosion of the structural joists.  Work has been done on the coatings and to recover the carpentry.

The image of the building with the façades that face the exterior patio is characterized by a greater proportion of hollow spaces covered with wooden slats that present a permeable skin to respond to the climate and the south and west directions they face. Originally, this wooden enclosure was composed of sheets of adjustable shutters on the exterior and solid shutters on the interior that were used if needed to protect from rain or storms.  This traditional system had to function in a very adequate way and was adapted to modern times to allow ventilation and the regulation of light. With the arrival of air conditioning, the interior fraileros were replaced with glazed panes and the exterior ones lost their function as thermal regulating elements.  Their lack of maintenance and exposure to the severe environmental conditions have caused them to deteriorate at a faster pace than the rest of the building.  Most have been preserved and recovered, replacing the rotten sludge, restoring those that were in better condition and reconstructing the vertical uprights where appropriate.  Regrettable, the enclosure of the second floor needed to be completed replaced due to its poor condition.

Finally, in the main façades, we proceeded in the same manner as discussed above, except they have greater ornamental and material richness.  The carpentry was restored, the volumes recovered, and the tightness of the balcony waterproofing was improved. The stone of the whole surface was washed with sandblasting in specific points where it was necessary on the porticoed ground floor, which presented a greater degree of dirt accumulation due to atmospheric pollution from local traffic.  This area has also seen some of the solid pillars mended as well as the restoration of the screen elements on this level.

In the reproduction of the volumes, techniques have been used, such as moulding or tarration by Kalam’s team of specialists and artisans.

In addition to the rest of the work, a monumental lighting system has been installed, replacing the existing system that lacked the criteria and was poorly designed, in addition to the deterioration of its elements. LED lighting technology was used for this specific lighting project to highlight the beauty and character of the building.

It has been a pleasure for the Kalam team to have performed the work of recovering and adding value to the only diplomatic seat located in the Old City of Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.  We hope to contribute to the restoration process that is taking place in this magnificent city.

See the Work