I'll be Havana go at fixing the crumbling landmarks of Cuba

EXPERTISE from restoration projects in Edinburgh could help rescue crumbling historic buildings in Cuba under plans drawn up by a city architect.

Ian Parsons, who has his own practice in Morningside, hopes to set up a charity to forge new links between Scotland and Cuba.

He wants to promote exchanges and training programmes in conjunction with the Cuban authorities and encourage foreign investment in restoration projects.

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Cuba is well-known for its colourful buildings in a mixture of architectural styles.

Part of the capital Havana, like Edinburgh, has been designated a world heritage site. But in many parts of the country the buildings are collapsing through hurricane damage and neglect.

Mr Parsons said: "I went to Cuba for a cycling holiday and fell in love with the place. The architecture, the landscape and the people really impressed me."

But while he was impressed by the medical and educational achievements in Cuba, Mr Parsons was upset by the decaying state of many buildings.

"I wrote to the British embassy in Havana about it and was invited to give a lecture there. I met lots of prominent Cuban architects, planners and academics. They were interested in the idea of some help from abroad in repairing their historic cities. Having spent my life renovating buildings in Scotland, I feel I'm in a position to help."

Mr Parsons has since been back to Cuba twice, met more people and is now in discussions with the Cuban embassy in London.

"What I want to do in the short term is set up a charity. We have carried out so much urban regeneration in Scotland, we do have a lot of skills that could be shared.

"We have done all the things they need to do and we have made lots of mistakes. They should come over and learn how not to make the mistakes we have made."

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He said an extensive restoration scheme had been launched in part of Havana, but in many other cities there had been little repair or restoration of their historic buildings for many years.

"There are many parallels with Edinburgh and Edinburgh's transformation in the 1960s could be a model for many Cuban cities – a culture-based, festival-based city economy.

"Edinburgh is recognised in Cuba as being a city of excellence and therefore a good place to make contact with."

The Cuba Conservation Trust would be an international charity dedicated to helping the Cuban people repair and conserve their urban and rural environments in a sustainable manner.

"We would hope to start with a small project first, maybe renovating a city block, beginning slowly and allowing working methods to evolve, working with the Cuban authorities.

"We can also learn from the Cubans: their urban and rural organic vegetable growing co-operatives are inspiring."

The project is looking for sponsorship to fund a project worker, the establishment of the charity and the first construction work.

Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland secretary Neil Baxter praised the initiative.

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He said: "Scottish architects have a well-deserved international reputation for conservation work. Ian Parsons's initiative for Cuba will translate this Scottish experience into a quite different climate with very difficult circumstances and a magnificent built heritage very much at risk.

"His determination will help secure some of South America's finest neo-classical urban architecture to the benefit of future generations worldwide."