‘The Inverted Fortress: An Open Embassy’

Final Year MArch project, RIBA Pt. 2. Unit20. University of Greenwich London. 2016.

 

“Diplomacy is not democratic, even in democracies. Somehow, and through the accretions of practice and habits of history, it is accepted that diplomats are a separate elite, who are free to arbitrate policy with little outside scrutiny, influence or accountability. We the governed and those affected by the decisions have little idea what the diplomats are doing
in our name, or even who they are.”

Quoted by Carne Ross, an ex-diplomat for the United Kingdom for more than fifteen years.
With that in mind, this project wishes to take a humorous point-of-view at the act of diplomacy. Seen as an act done by a select few, to negotiate terms on the public’s behalf trusted to make informed decisions for the greater good of a nation. The project, an embassy for the Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), is in essence hot-desking for diplomats. Looking into a new typology of embassy of the 21st century responding to the shifts in working culture and the unreasonable costs of a country (namely developing countries) in owning their own embassy in cities, such as London. Done through re-evaluating the future use of the soon to be decommissioned United States Embassy built by Eero Saarinen located in Grosvenor Square, London. Taking into account its implications to the urban fabric of London as the United States has had its presence in Grosvenor Square since the 1700’s.

 

Set in the not-to-distant future, the project highlights ways in which the embassy of the future might develop, where data registries can be stored online, the physical spaces of the embassy may change and accommodate more spaces to foster interactions among diplomats and the public through informal activities. A position was taken of creating a landscape of hedonistic pleasures where diplomacy is seen as an act of decision making taking place within the informal environment of crazy golf courses for example outside the realms of board rooms and formal settings. Creating a semi-transparent environment where these activities can be seen to operate by the public.

 

In trying to engage the viewer with the project. A medium was created, that of the ‘Diplomatic Souvenirs’, a set of models that varies in scale representing different activities and programs from within the project. Some of the models are scaled-down spaces of the activity the object represents, such as through the ping-pong bat which is a table tennis arena embedded in it. Other models are actual souvenirs that diplomats receive within the embassy, such as the Buddha statue.

 

The shifting of scales allows the viewer to read the project in a different light through the familiarities of holding a ping-pong bat for example, effectively bringing the viewer to become a participant within the project. Allowing the viewer to jump in-between the medium of models and drawings. One of the underlying themes of this project is that of soft power as an effective diplomatic tool.