Formally Informal: The United States Embassy Chancery Building in Athens, (1956-1961)

Alexandros C. Samaras

The United States did not build more than a handful of its own em-bassies, designed in various traditional styles, often related to their location, until late in the 1920s, when Congress decided to upgrade representation abroad. The State Department’s Office of Foreign Buildings Operations (FBO) embarked in Embassy Building Pro-gramme in 1952 backed by what appeared to be strong congressional endorsement. The FBO began to showcase modern architecture with pride and without the sense of guilt related to modern art. Architectural modernism became linked with the idea of freedom after WWII, and American architects emerged as leading proponents of the modern movement. In 1953 Nelson Kenworthy, an FBO consultant and its interim chief in 1954, drafted the agency’s first proposed architectural policy. He stated ‘the policy shall be to provide requisite and adequate facilities in an architectural style and form which are distinguished; […] increase good will by intelligent appreciation, recognition, and use of the architecture appropriate to the site and country’, through ‘buildings […] dignified and economical to build, operate and maintain’. This defined the embassy as a building intended to please its foreign hosts rather than its domestic critics. Οn issues of style Kenworthy remarked: ‘To me, […] it is not a question of whether it’s modern design, traditional, or whatever, it’s a question of whether it’s good design’.

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