The Post gave me considerable space in Sunday’s paper to look at a new report issued by the American Institute of Architects. The document is a nuts-and-bolts thing, incremental in its recommendations and it hardly glances at the real problem–crippling security dictates–that may make it impossible to build inspiring embassy architecture again. But it proves that there’s momentum to acknowledge the ugly embassies we’ve built and their impact on our public diplomacy agenda. Many architects believe that a workable compromise between security and aesthetics can be achieved through innovative and inspired design. I hope so. The AIA recommends that the office responsible for designing embassy facilities borrow from the GSA, and adopt a “design excellence” program. Perhaps that will help, though design excellence is a great way to ensure you get B-plus structures. It rarely if ever produces A-plus buildings.
But I think without a serious conversation about security, about the degree of risk we must accept, and about the nature of a diplomatic work–perhaps it is fundamentally dangerous and we must simply accept that–we will never build great embassies again. And if we can’t build great ones, then we should at least stop building bad ones. And reinvent diplomacy without embassies. A sad conclusion, and I hope we never get there.