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April 24, 2008

an open Embassy

The Swedish Embassy in Washington is a gift to our city. It's a Nordic modernist building right on the Potomac, with a public esplanade that helps form a continuous riverfront walkway. The building itself is made largely of glass and has no evident security at its doors. It symbolizes transparency and accessibility. One day, my 8-year-old, some family friends, and I visited for a free circus show on the lawn. Inside was a highly educational and interactive kids' science exhibition, free of charge and open for wandering in and out. Downstairs was a very serious exhibition about child trafficking, with advice on how you can get involved in addressing the problem. I love the combination of entertainment, instruction, and social activism.

I realize that the United States cannot play the same role as Sweden plays in today's world. If we built a glass-walled embassy in the middle of a foreign city and invited people to stroll through, it would probably be blown to bits. Still, we have tilted awfully far in the opposite direction, our embassies and cultural facilities surrounded by blast walls and Marines. The Swedish gift to DC is at least a reminder of what we have lost.

PS I wanted to illustrate this contrast by showing the US Embassy in Stockholm, because I suspected it might be a rather forbidding structure like those in London and Moscow. But it was built at a time of greater confidence and openness, in 1954. The Minnesota-based architect was Ralph Rapson. It's not my favorite kind of building--rather isolated from the city's fabric, designed to be reached by car, and set in a suburban lot. But those were the ideals of the time--not least in Scandinavia--and it was meant to look open and cheerful.

April 24, 2008 9:12 AM | category: fine arts | Comments


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