Reflections on the US Embassy

Reflections on the US Embassy

I recently attended a lecture at the Hellenic Institute of Architecture by Alexandros K. Samaras, an architect and longtime chairman of the Hellenic-American Educational Foundation’s Board of Directors, on Walter Gropius and his mid-1950s design for the US Embassy in Athens.

Gropius was attuned to the spirit of neoclassicism then prevalent in Eisenhower’s America. His designs show how he mimicked the Parthenon, albeit in a new Bauhaus guise, to reinforce the idealistic image prevalent at that time of the USA and Greece as exemplars of democracy.

And yet, I have come to think that the era of glass embassies open to the world peaked long ago as words like terrorism and terrorists entered the vocabulary.

Today, as documented in Jane C. Loeffler’s excellent book “Embassy Design: Security Vs Openness,” the worldwide environment around embassies has radically changed.

There is a built-in conflict between the mission of most embassies to enhance understanding between nations and the imperative to protect diplomats and staff. It shows up in the conflict between the formidable high-tech barriers around the US Embassy in Athens today and the idealistic, if dated, philosophy and openness embraced by its architect.

* Richard Jackson is a retired US diplomat, freelance writer and president of Athens College in Psychico.

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