|Photo of U.S. Embassy Athens from Discover Diplomacy|
My good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations have had a hot hand this past week, signing contracts for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and for the construction of a new U.S. Embassy Annex in Kampala, Uganda, and for the major rehabilitation of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece.
The Athens project is by far the most complex and architecturally interesting of the three awards. The project "includes the rehabilitation of, and additions to, the existing chancery and other buildings. The architect for the project is Ann Beha Architects of Boston, Massachusetts." That design firm, as we learned from Architect Magazine, specializes in "dusting off forgotten buildings and marshalling them into the present day" and the firm's proposal to OBO "conveyed a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in renovating historically significant buildings and experience with rehabilitation of complex mid-century modern structures."
Our chancery building in Athens could use a good dusting off. OBO describes it as follows:
The Athens Chancery, by architect Walter Gropius, one of the most celebrated representatives of the famed Bauhaus School, is a modern tribute to ancient Greek architecture. The architect designed the building as a metaphor for democracy in the country to which modern democracy owes so much.
Completed on July 4, 1961, the three-story edifice is markedly open. The landscaped courtyard provides a place for discussion and meeting. The white columns and brilliant reflective surfaces of the exterior façade are clad with Pentelic marble, the famous stone used in the Parthenon, other buildings on the Acropolis, and throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Black marble from Saint Peter, Peloponnesus, gray marble from Marathon, and other native Greek marbles are used throughout the building. The beautifully-turned wood stair railing was made with Greek pearwood by Greek artisans.
Contemporary architecture magazines described the chancery as “a symbol of democracy at the fountainhead of many old democratic and architectural traditions” by “one of modern architecture’s Olympian figures,” Walter Gropius, and his associates at The Architects Collaborative (TAC). Gropius said that he sought “to find the spirit of [the] Greek approach without imitating any classical means.” The podium, quadrilateral plan, interior patio, exterior columns, and formal landscaping were all handled in a thoroughly modern way.
The building’s climatic response includes ceramic sunscreens, wide overhangs, free flowing air at continuously slotted over hangs, and a bipartite roof. Upper floors hang from the roof structure. Gropius placed a reflecting pool at the main entrance and fountains in the landscape to create serene settings and cooling from the Greek sun. The floor plan is arranged in a sweeping crescent that embraces a large formal terrace descending to a lawn and garden.
The Athens Chancery remains a fresh and optimistic bow to the classical ideal and one of the most prominent Bauhaus buildings in Greece.
So basically, the chancery is supposed to look like the Parthenon - see the resemblance? - only with a Modernist flat roof and glassed-in sides. It doesn't seem like promising material for a Fortress Embassy of the modern type. But, I have all the confidence in the world that my good friends can pull this off.