US Embassy, Copenhagen, Denmark

Added by vincent wilcke, last update: March 10, 2013, 12:43 am

US Embassy, Copenhagen, Denmark
US Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen as it appears today., source: google maps, date: 2/12/2013
Location
Dag Hammarskjölds Allé 24
København Ø 2100
Denmark
55° 41' 45.8412" N, 12° 35' 1.0932" E
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Administration (ADM)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

In the aftermath of World War II the United States’ position as an emerging global superpower required an increased diplomatic presence abroad. In the thirty years subsequent to the war a profusion of embassies, consulates and staff housing was constructed throughout Europe, South America, Asia and Africa. These embassies were designed to be outward expressions of American ideals and were A-historical, often in stark contrast to other foreign diplomatic offices. With these projects, which were overseen by the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Building Operations (FBO) agency, architecture was used as a vehicle to promote the United States as a political and cultural force asserting an idea of a young, progressive and modern nation. The projects were given to private architecture firms that were contracted with the State Department in an attempt to create a diversity of architecturally significant works.
The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen was within the first wave of the new postwar embassy projects planned by the FBO. Preceded by embassy projects in Rio de Janeiro (1948-1952), Havana (1950-1952) and Madrid (1952-1954), when Ralph Rapson was charged with designing embassies in The Hague, Stockholm and Copenhagen the program for a modern embassy was still largely debatable. The convention of relating an embassy to an ambassador’s residences was outmoded, with the post-war geopolitical environment mandating an increase in diplomatic office space and modern facilities. In retrospect of his Scandinavian embassies, Rapson detailed that he was unfamiliar at the time with contemporaneous embassy projects, stating that he had never even seen photographs of the embassies in Rio or Havana. Rapson later detailed that the jobs presented unprecedented deign freedom stating, “Mind you, none of these [embassy] jobs had programs…we had virtually no controls on us regarding design” (Loeffler, 75).
The importance of the Stockholm and Copenhagen commissions eventually warranted Raspon’s dismissal of the embassy project in The Hague. Moving his offices from the Netherlands to Sweden, Rapson developed compositions concentrating on balancing volume and transparency for both Scandinavian embassies. Capturing the fleeting hours of winter daylight in Northern Europe was deemed important and both projects feature large expanses of glass. In Copenhagen, the site selected for the embassy was constrained and a set of design guidelines was produced by the city that defined the overall envelope of the new building (Hession, 101). Rapson was thus confined to a humble three-stories in order to relate the new embassy to its low rise surroundings. This defied his original design featuring an office tower with a rooftop garden and forced Rapson to fit a large, and yet undefined, program on a small plot of land while still retaining the openness and flow of space that modernity celebrated.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Commission: circa March 1951 Completed: exactly May 27 1954
Architectural and other Designer(s): Architects: Ralph Rapson, John van der Meulen. Interior architect: Susanne Tucker. Consulting architect: Andres Tengbom. Consulting engineers: Sven Tyren, Harry Bremfors, Gustav Magnusson. Supervising architect: Suul Moller, Erik Herlow.
Others associated with Building/Site: FBO: Fredrick Larkin, Leland King, Ides Van Gracht.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): The embassy has been altered, however specific dates regarding each alteration are unavailable. A new entrance has been built on the front facade. Originally the embassy was accessed through a revolving door that brought visitors and embassy employees into the glazed lobby. Presumably due to security issues, this door has been removed and the glazed lobby has been fenced in. The new entrance projects off of the main plane of the front facade and is accessed by a ramp. There is a metal awning over the new entrance and is supported by thin metal columns.
Current Use: The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen still serves its original purpose.
Current Condition:
General Description:

The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen occupies a rectangular site on Osterbrogarden Avenue. The embassy is raised above street level by a series three steps and is set behind an allee of trees. Designed to appear as three suspended rectangular modules, the embassy consists of a two-story office block, a ground floor library and auditorium and a rear ground floor office wing. These spaces are connected through a glazed lobby that is recessed beneath the two-story office block. This office block is supported by a series of regularly spaced piloti. The one-story library and auditorium block is set beneath the office block but projects outwards, while the ground floor one-story office wing is to the rear but extends past the other pieces of the structure and thus can be seen from the street. The two-story office block is clad in a regular rhythm of operable aluminum windows that sit above aluminum spandrel panels. Each floor plate is articulated on the facade by a thin granite stringcourse. The interior spaces are defined by non-load baring wood and glass partition walls in units that allow for easy rearrangement. Due to past alterations the original circulation has been changed. The revolving doors that served as the main entrance to the embassy have been removed and a fence has been interjected in front of the glazed lobby. A new entrance has been built on the front facade that is accessible by a ramp and provides a more secure entrance. There is a metal awning supported by thin metal columns that covers this new entrance.

Construction Period:
Original Physical Context:

The Copenhagen embassy is sited on Osterbregade Avenue, which connects the center of Copenhagen with its northern residential suburbs. When the embassy was being designed the City Plan of Copenhagen mandated that the structure maintain a vernacular Scandinavian appearance to tie it in with the Canadian Embassy next door (Hession, 101). However, Rapson and van der Meulen’s modern design was eventually approved on the condition that the new building maintained the existing cornice-line of the street and that the main block was set back 23 feet. The embassy was thus constricted in size in order not overwhelm its traditionally scaled and aesthetically similar neighbors.

Evaluation
Technical Evaluation:

The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen did not debut any new construction techniques nor did it utilize any new materials in any particularly novel ways. The flexibility of the interior spaces however was dependant on an innovative HVAC system. The ventilation system was designed to avoid using trunk ducts and dropped ceilings along the normal corridor line. Instead, riser ducts at circulation and service centers lead to distribution plenums between the joists and tubular ducts, cast in the floor slab, supplying washed and heated air at each window. From every two four-foot bays a return duct recirculates the air to the risers and fans, so that no room is without the supply and return air (Us embassy building in Copenhagen, Stockholm and paris, 241). The embassy is built on a reinforced concrete frame. Circular columns that are set back from the walls support the main beams that run parallel to the main facade. Smaller joists at right angles are spaced at approximately four-foot intervals. Floors are of a marbleized plastic tile and ceilings are suspended and are a sound-absorbent perforated plaster tile backed with fiberglass and aluminum foil. Offices have fluorescent lighting tubes set in louvered recessed troughs (Us Embassy Building in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Paris, 242).

Social:

The Embassy of the Untied states of America in Copenhagen opened to the public on May 27 1954 (Us Embassy Building in Copenhagen, Stolckholm and Paris”, 245). Awarded the Danish government’s Danish Medal in 1955, the building was well received, with the New York Times declaring, “all modernists in Copenhagen are delighted by the $1,000,000 structure, which took two years to build (Soerensoen, 2). Rapson gained the embassy commissions in Copenhagen, Stockholm and The Hague, through a connection with Hans Knoll. Knoll Associates had been contracted with the FBO in 1951 as consultants, and to provide furnishings, for the U.S. embassy being built in Havana (Hession, 95). Hans Knoll convinced Rapson, then a professor at MIT, to contact Fredrick Larkin and Leland King, the director and assistant director of the FBO. Larkin and Leland had been given the tasks of acquiring sites and architects for each of the new embassy projects. While the FBO was a relatively small department within the US State Department Larkin and King had been granted near sovereignty in regards to site, architect and design selection. A comfortable budget was assured for each project through a variety of funding streams including debt credits incurred under the terms of the Marshall Plan as well as $100 million in credits and $15 million in dollars authorized by congress in 1946 (Loeffler, 50).
In 1951 when Rapson met with Larkin and King in Washington DC plans for embassies in Copenhagen, Stockholm and The Hague were being developed. Less than a month later Rapson was on his way to Europe with all three of the high-profile commissions. In each of the embassies Rapson partnered with fellow American architect John van der Meulen who provided a technical and structural expertise. The FBO insisted that their American architects worked with a local architect in order to navigate foreign codes, zoning, construction procedures and climate for each embassy project. Rapson and van er Meulen were partnered with Swedish architect Andres Tengbom and it was out of Tengbom offices in Stockholm that the Copenhagen and Stockholm embassies were designed (Us Embassy Building in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Paris, 242).
Programmatically, the Copenhagen embassy was developed through loose requirements mandated by the FBO. The concept of a modern embassy however was largely void of precedents in the early 1950s, as previous Embassies had always corresponded with an Ambassador’s residence. To better understand the procedures that would eventually take place in the building, Rapson met with and interviewed embassy employees, military attaches and security personnel. Through this it was concluded that the embassy should be “architecturally modern, open and inviting and should function well as a place of business while being bold, dynamic and user-friendly” (Hession , 101). The decision to articulate the United States’ political presence abroad in aesthetically modern buildings helped signify the United States as a modern nation whose political structure differed both from the Soviets as well as the old governments of Europe. Ralph Rapson and John van der Meulen’s US embassy in Copenhagen demonstrates this concern and was designed to appear open and inclusive with only one entrance for both the general public as well as embassy employees.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Ralph Rapson began his formal architectural education in the 1930s at the University of Michigan. He was educated within the pedagogy of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which retained a firm position in American architectural schools. Rapson proved to be a gifted student, capable of producing detailed and stylistically distinct drawings with great speed and accuracy, and upon graduation he was granted a two-year scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Led at the time by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, the Cranbrook Academy of Art taught students utilizing theories of modernism developed and imported from Europe. Building stagnated during the Great Depression and World War II in the United States and thus Rapson’s early work was largely competition based. Along with fellow architects Eero Saarinen and Fred James, Rapson received first place for an entry for a festival theater and fine arts center for the College of William and Mary in 1939 (Hession, xi). The entry represented the first fully modern campus building constructed for an American University. In 1945 Rapson drew wide critical acclaim for his “Greenbelt House” submission to Arts and Architecture magazine’s Case Study program for postwar housing. A year later he was elected to an assistant professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it was from this post that he took leave to design the Scandinavian embassy projects. In its unaltered state The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen would have appeared largely transparent with the library, reading room and auditorium all placed near the entrance and thus widely accessible to the public. These public spaces are articulated in the massing of the embassy making the structure easily understood from the street. The building fits neatly within the postwar canon of modernism that greatly influenced American corporate architecture and brought open plazas, piloti and curtain wall systems to the forefront of design. While originally a constriction opposed by Copenhagen’s city planner the low-slung horizontality of the embassy aided the building in retaining a human scale which proved to be an important theme within Rapson’s work. The fact that the building was recessed from the street also provided an opportunity to engage with the public, as the allee of trees helped to frame views of the embassy and separate the modern composition from its vernacular surroundings. These considerations created a commentary on the supposed transparency of a democratic government while disassociating the United States with the old vernacular architectural forms, themselves symbols of European empire and the political climate that brought upon World War II.
Historical:

When The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen was completed in May of 1954 it was generally considered a success. While Rapson and van der Meulen’s design was not particularly inventive in its architectural treatment, the embassy’s design correlated to the post World War II architectural environment. Rapson, who was 37 when given the Copenhagen embassy commission, had studied architecture during the 1930s at a time when the architectural ideals of the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier were potent (Lathrop, 107). This influence can obviously be seen in the embassy’s planar facades, glass and metal grid, and piloti. The most innovative piece of the Copenhagen embassy is in the way in which the architecture dealt with the separation of public and private spaces. Rapson was very careful to maintain a separation between private offices and public spaces without creating a stratified experience to visitors. This is executed by placing offices on the second and third floors as well as to the rear of the public spaces. Furthermore the singular main entrance and human scale of the project help maintain a sense of accessibility.

General Assessment:
It is easy to dismiss The Embassy of the United States of America in Copenhagen upon its altered appearance today. The fencing off of and removal of the original entrance and the addition of the ramp and the new entrance have detracted from the openness of the original scheme. These alterations make it difficult to appreciate Rapson and van der Meulen’s original intent for the embassy building as a publicly accessible and easily understandable structure. When it was completed the Copenhagen embassy project fit neatly into the canon of post war modern design and can be seen as a reflection of American optimism in democracy and capitalism. The program for foreign embassies was largely undetermined when the Copenhagen project was being designed. As Ides Van der Gratcht, the regional director of the FBO who oversaw the construction of both the Copenhagen and Stockholm embassy projects, stated in regard to the two projects “most Europeans still envisage the Embassy in terms of the Congress of Vienna or the movie ‘Roman Holiday’” (Hession, 103). Through both the Copenhagen and Stockholm embassy projects Rapson and van der Meulen significantly aided in the creation of the modern embassy typology.
Documentation
Text references:

Cremmen, Mary. "U. S. Embassies Around the World." Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960): 2. Jan 05 1958. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Boston Globe (1872-1981). Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Hession, Jane King, Rip Rapson, and Bruce N. Wright. Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society, 1999.

Lathrop, Alan K. Minnesota Architects: A Biographical Dictionary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010. Print.

Loeffler, Jane C. The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies. New York: Princeton Architectural, 1998.

Soerensoen, Aage. Special to The New,York Times. "Modernistic U. S. Embassy in Denmark is a Sensation." New York Times (1923-Current file): 5. Jun 08 1954. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) with Index (1851-1993). Web. 11 Feb. 2013 .

STUART PRESTON. "The State Department Builds Abroad." New York Times (1923-Current file): 61. Dec 29 1957. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) with Index (1851-1993). Web. 11 Feb. 2013 .

“Us Architecture Abroad.” Architectural Forum 98 (March1953):100-112.

“Us Embassy Building in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Paris.” Architectural Review 118 (October 1955):240-247.

Cremmen, Mary. "U. S. Embassies Around the World." Daily Boston Globe (1928-1960): 2. Jan 05 1958. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Boston Globe (1872-1981). Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Hession, Jane King, Rip Rapson, and Bruce N. Wright. Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society, 1999.

Lathrop, Alan K. Minnesota Architects: A Biographical Dictionary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010. Print.

Loeffler, Jane C. The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies. New York: Princeton Architectural, 1998.

Soerensoen, Aage. Special to The New,York Times. "Modernistic U. S. Embassy in Denmark is a Sensation." New York Times (1923-Current file): 5. Jun 08 1954. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) with Index (1851-1993). Web. 11 Feb. 2013 .

Stuart Preston. "The State Department Builds Abroad." New York Times (1923-Current file): 61. Dec 29 1957. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) with Index (1851-1993). Web. 11 Feb. 2013 .

“Us Architecture Abroad.” Architectural Forum 98 (March1953):100-112.

“Us Embassy Building in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Paris.” Architectural Review 118 (October 1955):240-247.

Authoring
Recorder/Date: Vincent Wilcke/ 2/12/2013
Additional Images
US Embassy, Copenhagen, Denmark
First and second floors of the embassy , Source: author's drawing , date: 2/26/2012
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