The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw building was constructed in response to the destruction of the previous embassy building in World War II. It was built to house the U.S. mission to Poland, and serve as the center of diplomatic activity. The structure therefore required security considerations and unique space considerations that involved a main chancery building for office and public use. Aesthetically, the building was a representation of the United States on foreign soil, and was meant to incite respect and admiration for the country it was constructed for.
The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw complex consists of a five-story main chancery building and a three-story annex, named the Piekna Annex after the street which it faces. The plan of the complex consists of a rectangle with a central courtyard and a front facade which is taller than the rest of the building. The annex is an extension that forms an arm to the side road. The main facade is characteristic of the Modern Movement in its distinct simplicity and lack of ornament, use of new materials particularly metal, glass, and concrete, and its flat, horizontal arrangement and rhythmic balance of windows. The glass is the focus of this facade, lending to an ever-changing play of light and color in the appearance of the building.
Late 1950s to Early 1960s
The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw is located on Ujazdow Avenue (Aleje Ujazdowskie) between Ulica Wilcza and Ulica Piekna. It is located in the Srodmiescie district of Warsaw, which means the "downtown" or "city center" and houses both the Old Town (Stare Miasto) and New Town (Nowe Miasto) historic districts. The U.S. Embassy is neighbored by the embassies of other countries, including Romania, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia, and New Zealand.
The embassy is a glass, concrete, and metal facade, materials typical of the work done by Welton Becket & Associates.
The diplomatic relationship between the United States and Poland began in 1871 when the first U.S. consulate was established in Warsaw, which was then under Russian Administration. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson recognized Poland as independent and in 1930, the American Legation to Poland was elevated to embassy status. With the outbreak of World War II, the embassy was moved from Warsaw to Paris, and then to London, before the mission was finally terminated on July 5, 1945. With the end of the war, the mission was re-established in Warsaw on July 31, 1945, less than a month after its termination in London. In the two years following, consulates were also established in Poznan and Krakow.
During World War II, the building that served as the U.S. Embassy was destroyed. In the interim between the re-establishment of the embassy and the construction of the new building, the mission took place in a Warsaw hotel. The need for a new building was clearly identified and the nearly seventy-five year diplomatic relationship between the United States and Poland necessitated a rebuilding of the U.S. mission to Poland and its physical markers.
The Foreign Building Office's decision to hire private architects for the design of new diplomatic buildings in the post-war construction period was based on the design requirements of the office. The designs were challenged not only to be contextual to the country's architecture, respectful of both the historic buildings and local traditions and customs, but also be inspiringly American, new, and boldly modern, in order to garner respect for the United States. The architects chosen were those that the FBO believed had exhibited these qualities in previous work.
Welton Becket & Associates was a prominent Los Angeles firm known primarily for office and corporate buildings. However, Becket also worked on a wide range of building types, including stores, hotels, airports, hospitals, and urban master plans. The firm grew to be one of the largest in the nation, and possibly the world, and therefore gained a wide variety of commissions abroad, such as the Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo, Egypt, and the Manila Jai Alai Building in Manila, Philippines. With this renown and international experience, Welton Becket & Associates was a natural choice for the design of one of the new embassy buildings.
Becket's other commissions vary widely in design but are adherent to the philosophies of modernism. One trend in his designs is that of the low, horizontal facade with a strong emphasis on windows, which the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw is a part of. Other buildings by Becket boast curved facades, complexes of multiple tall towers, and many other forms.
In relation to Becket's other buildings, this embassy has been greatly overshadowed. Buildings such as the Reunion Tower in Dallas, Texas, and Disney's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida received more attention as Welton Becket designs than did the embassy. The embassy was also the center of criticism by the Architectural Advisory Panel in 1957, which cited the expanse of glass in the facade as a security concern for the embassy and stated that the entire facade was unable to provide the architectural dignity and appropriateness that masonry could provide.
In the mid-1940s and early 1950s, the Foreign Buildings Office of the United States began an extensive embassy and diplomatic building program. The feasibility of this program was primarily due to the post-war boom, in which funds were available, land was cheap, political or facility requirements changed (including the establishment of new nations), and, as in the case of Warsaw, embassy buildings were destroyed and needed to be rebuilt. In 1954, Pietro Belluschi, who was hired as an architect for the Foreign Buildings Office, created a memo nominating prominent architects and firms for the design of the future embassy buildings. Welton Becket was on the list, and was also one of the architects to later receive a commission. That commission was the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw.
Welton Becket's design for the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw is typical of corporate modern architecture in the late 1950s and early 1960s as well as the stock of other designs by his firm. It is characterized by a clean and simple facade, a significant use of glass, rhythmic window placement, and a distinct lack of ornament. Even with the criticism it faced at its outset, the design was successful in its purpose, and is even considered to be one of the best examples of embassy architecture in Poland. The design is also in harmony with other U.S. embassy architecture of the period, contributing to the context as a whole.
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Inspection of Embassy, Warsaw, Poland. U.S. Department of State Office of Inspections. Report Number ISP-I-11-64A, September 2011.
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Loeffler, Jane C. "The Architecture of Diplomacy: Heyday of the United States Embassy-Building Program, 1954-1960." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Vol. 49, No. 3 (Sep. 1990):251-278.
Poland. U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian. Web. 10 February 2013.
United States Diplomatic Mission to Warsaw, Poland. U.S. Department of State. Web. 10 February 2013.
Welton Becket Associates. Welton Becket Associates. Los Angeles, Ca., 1950.