A Gracious New Front Door for US Diplomacy

June 15, 2015
Credit: ArchBim

Washington Post Architecture Critic Philip Kennicott explores the past and future public face of the State Department with a look at Beyer Blinder Belle’s design for the new U.S. Diplomacy Center, currently in construction.

“The U.S. State Department may be the official public face we put to the world, but for years the face it has put to Washington has been an architectural mess. More than a decade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, concrete security barriers still bestrew the east side of 23rd Street NW. Visitors to the diplomatic reception rooms are screened in an ugly modular structure on C Street. There is no clear public entrance to the building, which is composed of an early-1940s stripped-down classical structure that was, in the 1960s, dwarfed by an “addition” in the international modern style. And the entire complex feels like a giant black hole, sucking the life out of what should be a vibrant district, bounded by a major arts center, an urban university and the Mall….

That may be changing. Last September, Secretary of State John F. Kerry joined five former secretaries to break ground for the building’s new public front door — the U.S. Diplomacy Center — which will include a shimmering pavilion housing a museum and an underground cafe, bookstore and event space. The Diplomacy Center, being built in the open space between the two arms of the State Department’s northeast-facing original building, will open in 2017 and eventually include three exhibition halls and underground space. The public will finally have some measure of access, and visitors interested in diplomacy will be able to explore documents and artifacts of the trade….

The State Department hired architect Hany Hassan of Beyer Blinder Belle to design the new structure. Based on Hassan’s previous work in Washington, the choice is inspired….

… the Diplomacy Center may serve as a reminder that diplomacy shouldn’t merely be the purview and playground of elites. There is a public involved, and the public wants access. That lesson could be usefully applied to American embassies around the world, which are desperately in need of the open-doors attitude Hassan is trying to incorporate into the State Department mothership in Washington.”

Read the complete article: www.washingtonpost.com

Courtesy of the U.S. Diplomacy Center