History books rarely make news–and architectural history books, almost never! But since its first publication in 1998, The Architecture of Diplomacy has been in the news much of the time.
Terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in August, 1998 focused immediate attention on the book as the only source for up-to-date information on the history of America’s foreign building program. Journalists turned to the book and its author for answers after each subsequent incident. Critics relied on it for background in building their own arguments about issues ranging from mismanagement in Baghdad to security lapses in Benghazi.
The Architecture of Diplomacy made news in an unexpected way in April, 2014–the result of a most “undiplomatic” incident. It seems that the British Embassy in Washington, searching for a title for a book on its D.C. embassy residence, hit upon the idea of “borrowing” The Architecture of Diplomacy for that purpose. And did so. Outraged by this “literary usurpation,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Philip Kennicott wrote a terrific endorsement of my work in The Washington Post (Apr. 29, 2014).
Excerpts from previous news items include these from: The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The St. Petersburg (FLA) Times, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Times of London, The Washington Times, The Atlantic, The Middle East Times, METROPOLIS, and various media websites. REVIEWS are listed separately.
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“Fortress Architecture Don’t Let Terrorists Design Our Buildings”
by Blair Kamin, December 5, 1999
…”Openness is more than transparency,” said Jane Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy. In the postwar era, she recalled, American embassies had multiple entrances–one for diplomats, another for foreigners who would come to read American newspapers, see concerts or exhibitions. Now, to reduce the impact of car bombings, American officials are trying to re-route streets around a planned embassy next to Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate. That, Loeffler said, is the rough equivalent of another country asking the U.S. to shut down a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue because it worries that truck bombers will strike its embassy. (The part of the street in front of the White House actually has been closed to vehicles since the Oklahoma bombing.)
“Welcome to Baghdad, U.S.A.” by Mike Boyer
“In the September/October issue of FP, architectural historian Jane Loeffler—who knows more about U.S. embassy design than just about anybody else—gives readers a taste of just what kind of embassy $1 billion buys these days.”
St. Petersburg Times (FLA)
“New U.S. Embassy, a city inside Baghdad–The huge complex is in Iraq, but some say apart from it” by SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent, Sep. 30, 2007
“Although the U.S. government regularly proclaims confidence in Iraq’s democratic future, the United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future,” historian Jane Loeffler writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine…
The embassy is still scheduled to open any day, though Loeffler says she has been told “it’s not finished, it’s not ready and it needs more time and money.”
In a phone interview, Loeffler didn’t dispute the need for tight security in Baghdad. But she sees the Iraqi project as just one example of a disturbing trend in U.S. embassy construction worldwide — places so isolated and impenetrable that they make it harder for the United States to develop good relations with host countries.
“I’m not trying to be naive about security because people are out to get us everywhere,” says Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies. “The issue is, can we do our job when buildings are designed to exclude everyone?”
In decades past, U.S. embassies were conveniently located and had libraries, cultural centers and other meeting places where thousands of people — including future leaders — got their first, often positive introduction to America, Loeffler notes.
The Times (London)
“Welcome to the new US embassy” by Martin Fletcher, Sep. 1, 2007
…Critics also portray the new compound as a symbol of American isolation and occupation, and a sign of how little confidence the US has in Iraq’s future. Jane Loeffler, an expert on the architecture of embassies, writes in the latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine: “Encircled by blast walls and cut off from the rest of Baghdad, it stands out like the crusader castles that once dominated the Middle East… Although the US Government regularly proclaims confidence in Iraq’s democratic future, the US has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future. Instead, the US has built a fortress capable of sustaining a massive, long-term presence in the face of continued violence.
The Times © Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd.
The Washington Times
“Embassy Row: Diplomatic fortress” by James Morrison, Aug. 30, 2007
…A noted expert on diplomatic architecture added her voice to the criticism of the size of the new U.S. Embassy in Iraq in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, comparing the massive compound larger than the Vatican to a crusader castle. “A citadel is rising on the banks of the Tigris,” Jane C. Loeffler wrote of the embassy scheduled for completion on Saturday… has written several books and articles on embassy architecture… “Diplomacy is not the sort of work that can be done by remote control,” she added. “It takes direct contact to build good will for the United States and promote democratic values.” Ms. Loeffler, a visiting associate professor at the University of Maryland, asked, “Why is the United States building something so large, so expensive and so disconnected from the realities of Iraq?
Excerpt from THE SWAMP by Mark Silva, 8/29/07
The United States has built a “fortress” in Baghdad in the new American embassy, a building which speaks volumes about the way the U.S. views the situation there, according to a critic of the new diplomatic headquarters writing in Foreign Policy magazine.
The largest, most expensive embassy ever built will be completely isolated from the nation in which is centered, writes historian Jane Loeffler in the September/October issue. “Walled off and completely detached from Baghdad, it conveys a devastating message about America’s global outlook,” she reports. “The United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future,” Loeffler says in her article, “Fortress America.” Loeffler has written extensively on the architectural history of embassies and other prominent public buildings. Her book, The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies (Princeton Architectural Press, 1998) traces the history of the U.S. foreign building program; for that work the U.S. Department of State awarded her the Secretary’s Open Forum Distinguished Public Service Award in 1998.
Her articles and book reviews have appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Foreign Service Journal, Architectural Record, World Architecture, Landscape Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times. She is currently a visiting associate professor at the University of Maryland, where she also teaches courses in landscape history.
“A Nice, Cozy Place in Baghdad” by David Corn, Aug. 28, 2007
Sometimes I like it whenever other journalists beat me to the punch. I was considering putting together a list of all the supposed “turning points” in the Iraq War that, of course, turned out not to be points of turning. But, it turns out, Foreign Policy, a feisty magazine that’s not just for wonks, has already done so. Here’s how FP starts its web-exclusive piece…
The current issue of Foreign Policy has a sharp article by Jane Loeffler, a historian of embassies, on the new U.S. embassy in Iraq…Loeffler notes, “The United States has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future,” With this embassy, she points out, there will be no need for the Americans to interact with Iraqis for anything. And she argues, “Diplomacy is not the sort of work that can be done by remote control. It takes direct contact to build goodwill for the United States and promote democratic values.”
So as another “turning point” is reached in Iraq, the Bush administration is to open on September 1 one helluva symbol. But if this turning point isn’t the one that does the trick, at least Americans official in Baghdad will live and work in comfort and security as they plan the next one.
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation, the oldest political weekly in America, and a Fox News Channel contributor.
The Guardian Unlimited
“Diplomacy has no place in this monstrous bunker” by Martin Kemp, May 23, 2007 8:30 AM
An embassy, a unique patch of sovereign territory allocated to the overseas country, has traditionally been a site for diplomacy; a doorway to a foreign state. The architecture of newly-constructed embassies has of course always involved rhetoric, ranging from neoclassical bombast to studied good manners. Their erratic architectural course has been charted by Jane Loeffler in her Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies (1998). The story has long ceased to be of well-meaning if generally undistinguished buildings, and has become a melancholy commentary on the failure of America to sustain the “open society” on the world stage.
MIDDLE EAST TIMES (25)
“New U.S. Embassy in Berlin” by STEFAN NICOLA , July 1, 2008
…Yet Jane Loeffler, who teaches architectural history at the University of Maryland, says the embassy bashing is grossly unfair. “Instead of walling off the building, or drawing unwanted attention to it by surrounding it with concrete barriers — as the United States has done in London and at its embassy in Ottawa — [the architects] included security elements while incorporating civic gestures to engage the public, including a skylit rotunda that opens onto Pariser Platz, a glassy lantern tower that glows toward the Tiergarten at night and a street-corner pavilion that gives passersby a glimpse of a colorful Sol LeWitt mural commissioned for the south lobby,” Loeffler wrote in a commentary for Newsweek. “The building is neither loud nor ego-driven, as many U.S. embassies were in the ’50s, when these buildings were gathering places and civic centers. Sadly, German critics have chosen to ridicule the security mandate, and have misread the building as a reflection of current U.S. foreign policy when it stands for the very opposite — an affirmative expression of the trust and mutual respect that makes diplomacy possible.”
The Washington Diplomat
“State Department Eyes Walter Reed to be D.C.’s Next Embassy Enclave”
by Martin Austermuhle, Aug. 31, 2012
According to Jane Loeffler, an architectural hisrorian and author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies. Such campuses are stranded practice in cities across the world, from Beijing to Brasilia. “There are enclaves. There’s historically been embassy centers in many cities.” She said.
The benefits of the campuses are undeniable. First, they spare foreign governments from having to compete for office space in Washington’s pricey and incredibly crowded real estate market.
“There were a lot of small countreies that couldn’t afford to buy into D.C. real estate.” Said Loeffler about the original International Chancery Center. “They couldn’t get anything decent, and they needed office space. This was a way to accommodate the demand in a very expensive real estate market.”
THE ATLANTIC: CITIES (Place Matters)
“THE BIG FIX: Fortress America: How the U.S. Designs its Embassies”
by HENRY GRABAR, Sep. 17, 2012
Regardless, with a string of embassy disasters culminating in the East Africa bombings of 1998, fears of terrorism outweighed other concerns. In 1999, the State Department adopted a standard model of construction, which embassy historian Jane Loeffler describes as an “isolated walled compound.” These spiritless shells are epitomized by the designs of Page Southerland Page, who have built 21 such embassies and consulates since 2001.
From inside the walls of these fortified villas, you might mistake our embassies for social science buildings at a rural college. They are squat, unremarkable structures surrounded by green lawns; totally anti-urban, and, planners hope, totally secure. As Senator John Kerry put it in 2009, “We are building some of the ugliest embassies I’ve ever seen…I cringe when I see what we’re doing.” …Then again, embassies aren’t designed to be military bases. “They’re designed for bombs, not for angry mobs,” says Jane C. Loeffler, who wrote the book on embassy architecture: The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies. “You’re always at the mercy of the host government.” “It’s changing again, and it’s changing for the better,” Loeffler says, “but I don’t know exactly how the events happening now will shape this.”
The New York Times
“Diplomats Pulled 2 Ways, Between High Walls and Open Doors”
by NEIL MacFARQUHAR, Sep. 13, 2012
…The latest attacks could threaten a new effort to relax the imperious architecture of the past decade, said Jane C. Loeffler, an architectural historian who wrote The Architecture of Diplomacy. She said that when she visited the State Department this week, just before the attacks, to conduct research on the effort, she found officials “excited and upbeat about this incredible change in direction” that would place embassies closer to the middle of cities and generally make them more welcoming by reimagining security features. After the attacks, she said, “my first reaction was, who could argue that architecture matters at all?” But reflecting further, she added that making the embassies less forbidding was as important as ever in reducing America’s image problems overseas.
“Foreign Policy: Bunker Mentality” by Joshua Keating, September 17, 2012
“It’s really a tradeoff that a lot of diplomats will accept, accepting more risk to make it easier to do their jobs,” says Jane Loeffler, an architectural historian and author of The Architecture of Diplomacy, a history of U.S. embassy design. “But we’re not always willing to make that tradeoff on their behalf.”
… In 1954, the OBO instituted a new embassy design program that embraced the emerging architectural modernist movement in order to give its facilities what Loeffler calls “a distinguishable American flavor.” The legacy of that era can be seen today in buildings like the Athens embassy built in 1959 by famed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and the New Delhi embassy built the same year by Edward Durell Stone, best known for Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. These facilities may look a bit run-down today, but at the time, they were considered architectural milestones and an emblem of American swagger at the height of the Cold War…. In 1998, simultaneous bombings hit the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 223 people.
The attacks alerted Americans to the threat posed by Osama bin Ladeand his al Qaeda network, and they were another bloody wake-up call on embassy security. Neither embassy met the Inman standards — the Dar es Salaam building was only 25 feet from the street, for instance—and a subsequent investigation found that 85 percent of U.S. embassies still weren’t up to code.
“After 1998, things really did change, and the State Department, under a lot of criticism and with a lot of money coming in from Congress, reorganized its building program,” Loeffler says. The 9/11 attacks led to a complete swing toward security; in 2002, the OBO adopted new guidelines known as “Standard Embassy Design” (SED), which aimed to create a reusable template for U.S. embassy construction around the world. The blueprint — including high fences and a 100-foot setback — is available in small, medium, and large versions and designed to go from empty lot to fully operational in less than three years. It also requires that all U.S. offices be located in the same fortified compound.
“The model was a three-part structure with a semi-public part for visitors and the public, an atrium for events and exhibits, and a more secure part,” says Loeffler. (See the embassies in Mali, Haiti, and Belize for examples of the form.) Aesthetics are clearly not a priority in the post-9/11 era; in fact, the State Department’s architectural advisory committee was eliminated in 2004. “There was criticism from a lot of places,” remembers Loeffler. “Diplomats felt they couldn’t do their jobs if they were totally cut off. The buildings didn’t seem to be complementing their locations and weren’t exactly exporting the best of what America had to offer.”
The New York Times
“After Benghazi Attack, Private Security Hovers as an Issue”
by James Risen, Washington, Oct. 12, 2012
…In fact, just as the Benghazi attack occurred, the State Department’s building department was beginning to address some of the frustrations by proposing more open and accessible designs for embassies. Under the new policy, embassies will still have to meet the same security standards, but the State Department will require that a higher priority be given to the visual appearance of buildings and will try to situate them in more central locations so that they are not so isolated. It is unclear whether the Benghazi crisis will force the State Department to abandon the new design policy. “The problem is that embassies no longer function as public buildings,” said Jane Loeffler, the author of The Architecture of Diplomacy, a history of the design and construction of American embassies. “They used to be public, but no longer.” For the State Department, finding the right balance between security and diplomacy has become increasingly difficult in a political environment.
“The rise and fall (and perhaps, rise again) of U.S. embassy architecture”
by Thomas de Monchaux, Nov., 2012
…There was even, as late as 1980, Frank Gehry in Damascus, Syria, whose proposal went unbuilt following (according to an account by architectural historian Jane Loeffler in her definitive history, The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies) a contentious meeting in which Gehry responded to a State Department official’s worries about the aesthetic effect of chain-link fencing (a low-rent material Gehry had famously raised to high art) with the catchphrase of every icy artiste: “You don’t know my work.”