Thursday, February 07, 2008

TSB: Who's Afraid of Fortress Embassies

The Skeptical Bureaucrat talks more today about the issue of "Fortress Embassies."

TSB writes:
"...Exactly what architectural features make an embassy a Fortress instead of just another government office building? As I understand the criticisms, it seems to come down to three objectionable elements: the long (30 meters, or 100 feet) setback distance between the embassy office building and the surrounding streets, the high (2.75 meters, or 9 feet) perimeter wall or fence, and the limited use of glass (currently about 40%) in the building’s façade. The setback distance is blamed for making the embassy remote from downtown and the other two features make it forbidding to visitors. As almost any book or article by Dr. Loeffler in the last 20 years has said, the buildings express fear rather than openness...

...How many people share Dr. Loeffler’s distain for fearful Fortresses and Big Box diplo-kitsch? All too few people appreciate architecture in the first place, which you would have to do before you could have a strong opinion, either pro or con, about Fortress Embassies. I have rarely met anyone from outside the architect and urban planner communities who paid serious attention to how any kind of building looks, and that makes me suspect the Fortress Embassy impression is mostly confined to upper middle-class Americans with an artistic bent. Those good folks often assume their own tastes and opinions are naturally shared by the better sort of people everywhere (even foreigners, since, as we know, inside every foreigner is a middle-class American trying to get out). My own experience difers. Personally, I have never met a foreigner who found U.S. embassies particularly fearful or forbidding, at least not because of their architecture."

I have also never met a Foreign Service Officer who opposed making our Embassies less vunerable to attack. I mentioned before that terrorists were able to throw a grenade over our nice wall at the Consulate in Jerusalem, and lots of folks are still alive only because it was a dud. Now we have a very tall fence on top of the wall (we affectionately call it a giraffe cage). I wonder if those who long for the days of prettier, more open (and more open to attack) embassies also think the military should stop using armored vehicles because they are so "closed" and armored vests because they make our soldiers seem scary.

You can read TSB's entire piece here:
Who's Afraid of Fortress Embassies?

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