f_0018764_16046 - Embassy Architecture Time to Stop Review...

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Spring 2010 The Ambassadors REVIEW 19 Embassy Architecture: Time to Stop, Review and Rethink Victor H. Ashe United States Ambassador to Poland, 2004-2009 he physical face of the United States overseas is often the embassy building. While technically, it may be the ambassador, he/she usually changes every three years, and most citizens of the host country do not meet the Chief of Mission but they do see the embassy. It is there for decades. Buildings make a statement about who we are and what we stand for. Architecture matters. Design is important. After the tragic bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania followed by the attack on the World Trade Center, new requirements were imposed on embassy and consulate constructions. Diplomatic security became involved in the design process. The requirement of a 100 foot setback on all four sides of an embassy makes it impossible in many cases to build an embassy in the central part of most capital cities. Consequently, new American embassies are now located away from the downtown or historic part of a city as evidenced by our embassies in Zagreb, Croatia; Tunis, Tunisia; and most recently in London where a new embassy is proposed for an isolated site in a light industry zone south of the Thames partially enclosed by a moat. Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle do not have moats for protection or aesthetics. I should acknowledge that the Department of State did appoint a commission to study designs for the proposed new London embassy, although the commission members were not unanimous in their vote on the final design. However, design commissions should be used worldwide, and incumbent ambassadors should feel free to weigh in on the design when it is so obviously unattractive and projects an image of America in fear. These embassy designs invariably connote a fortress (or even a prison) with narrow windows. Often, these buildings are just plain ugly and stick out like sore thumbs. The cost of these new structures is incredibly high. American taxpayers will spend over $1 billion (yes, one billion) in London for the new embassy. In Krakow, a new consulate (if built)— where only ten American employees would work—will exceed $80 million, and $600,000 has already been spent in site surveys, trips and appraisals over the past 12 years with nothing to show for the effort to date. If Poland reaches visa waiver status, the number of Americans working in Krakow will decrease, reducing the need for a new consulate. It
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