POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: the ugliest building in havana




The Russian Embassy is the ugliest building in Havana. Cinder, who’s got a highly developed sense of architectural aesthetic, is appalled.

Cinder: “Like… they worked really, really, really hard to make it ugly. I mean… could they have made it any uglier?”

We study it for a while.

Jane: “No, I think if that was their goal, they nailed it.”

The second, third and fourth ugliest buildings in Havana are also of Soviet design. But I concede, as a Pole, I may be prejudiced.

No, I take it back.

Social realist architecture was an aesthetic disaster. No caveats.

Also, a practical disaster.

The Spanish-designed villa in which I live in Havana is perfectly designed for Cuba’s climate. It’s built up and on a slope, so when the skies open up, everything drains perfectly off the property. Its high ceilings and thick cement walls—and front and back covered verandahs—help keep the house cool on hot days. Keep heat in on cooler days. The shutters and thick, coloured glass are aesthetically beautiful—and incredibly practical.

The Soviet-designed apartment blocks a block over—a carbon copy, by the way, of the post-World War II apartment blocks my parents grew up in—keep heat in on hot days and leak heat on cold days.

Cinder: “Did they do that on purpose?”

Jane: “No, it was just sheer incompetence.”

Havana is, of course, architecturally stunning. Its decay, its ruined facades as striking as those that are being meticulously renovated for the consumption of the tourists.

I respond to the old and the destroyed.

My children—Cinder especially—respond most intensely to the occasional gem of modern beauty. Generally, though? They suffer.

Cinder: “This is the ugliest city I’ve ever seen.”



Today’s postcard is sponsored by Tarot By Janine. Thank you very very much!

The second audio Postcard from Cuba, Cuban Math, is coming tomorrow.  If you enjoy the postcard project, you can express your delight and support by  sponsoring a Postcard or  making a donation via PayPal:

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If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ and we’ll work something out.


LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.


“Jane” / Tweet tweet @NothingBTBook / Instagram NothingByTheBook

4 thoughts on “POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: the ugliest building in havana

  1. Pingback: POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: on the bus | Nothing By The Book

  2. Pingback: POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: and again with Hemingway | Nothing By The Book

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