Constructing America’s Image: Modernist Embassies of the Cold War

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Constructing America's Image: Modernist Embassies of the Cold War
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, originally designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, will regain its embassy status

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Constructing America's Image: Modernist Embassies of the Cold War
The U.S. Interests Section in Havana, originally designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, will regain its embassy status

Hailed as a huge diplomatic step forward, President Obama’s announcement that the United States will re-open its embassy in Havana stands as one more concrete sign relations between the two countries will be restored. A symbol of U.S. might in a closed Communist country, the building’s curious history mirrors the the two nation’s relationship. “Closed” by Eisenhower in 1961 and demoted to a U.S. Interests Section, the modernist tower designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, architects who contributed to the design of the UN Headquarters, has been the site of political gamesmanship.

After the State Department installed a billboard to broadcast human rights messages in 2006, Cuba shot back, renaming the adjacent square Anti-Imperialist Plaza and blocking views of the offending signage with dozens of flagpoles topped in black flags. Embassies have always provided a potent way to project U.S. power, especially during the Cold War. Whereas in previous decades, the State Department had purchased existing buildings in foreign capitals, by the’50s, diplomats felt it was in our interest to commission a series of Modernist buildings that presented America as forward-thinking and idealistic. In 1954, the State Department gathered an advisory panel of prominent architects, who would review all building plans for the Office of Foreign Buildings Operations. The resulting program of contemporary design gave prominent designers such as Richard Neutra a chance to showcase America on the international stage. On the occasion of the 4th of July, here are some of our favorite examples. []

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