A different Fifth Avenue

Former Soviet Embassy, Havana, Cuba

Former Soviet Embassy, Havana, Cuba

I simply don’t get brutalist architecture.  I’m sometimes embarrassed, as a paid-up member, when the Twentieth Century Society campaigns for a concrete edifice that I’d cheerfully blow up, but there are uncompromising, exciting, post-war concrete buildings that I would miss if they were removed.

Perhaps the most startling post-war building I’ve ever seen is the Russian Embassy in Havana (originally, of course, the Soviet Embassy).

Designed by Aleksandr Rochegov and built between 1978 and 1987, it stands on the Quinta Avenida, or Fifth Avenue, in the Miramar district which was, before the Cuban Revolution, the prestigious residential district of the nation’s capital.

There is very little information on the web about this epic piece of concrete, with its gaunt tower protruding above the trees.

It’s described as constructivist, rather than brutalist, in style.  To me, in my ignorance, the distinction is academic, though students of modern architecture would recognise the two as entirely different concepts.

The most coherent example of constructivism I’ve come across, but not yet seen, is the Shukhov Tower in Moscow (1920-1922):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shukhov_Tower.

Yet the Russian Embassy in Havana is so unremittingly ugly that I rather like it.

And I’d be sorry to see it go, because it represents a layer in the palimpsest of Cuban architecture, along with the Spanish and American buildings that populate the island representing the stages in its history.

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