Thursday, April 25, 2019
The Blind Eagle
When Olga and I were in Mayfair last week, we walked past the former U.S. Embassy building on Grosvenor Square. The building was designed by acclaimed architect Eero Saarinen and opened in 1960. It served its purpose for more than 50 years, but after the African embassy bombings and 9/11, its appearance was marred by gigantic security bollards and barriers that separated it from the surrounding streets and the park.
Now the embassy has moved to a new location in Nine Elms, on the south bank of the Thames near Vauxhall, where there's more space and a much larger safety perimeter.
The Saarinen structure, which is protected by preservation laws, was sold to the Qatari government and is slated to become a fancy hotel. It's under renovation now, and once the construction walls come down it will be nice to see it with no barriers once again.
Reviews on this building were mixed, but I've always liked it -- even though it's modern and rather boxy, it has good proportions and architectural patterns that make it interesting.
I was intrigued by the big eagle on the roof (which is part of the facade and thus has to stay put under preservation laws). Turns out it's made of aluminum and was sculpted by Theodore Roszak. Apparently the bird has been criticized for its aggressive, warlike stance -- and the diplomatic message that sends -- but it is very dynamic.
It wasn't until I trained my zoom lens on the eagle that I realized it has no face!
There's something troubling -- but weirdly appropriate at times -- about America being represented by a blind, featureless, aggressive bird, isn't there?
Incidentally, you may remember Donald Trump made a stink about the embassy's move to Nine Elms and the price we got for this old building. The conservative Daily Mail says it was indeed a bad deal, as Trump alleged, but as others have pointed out, there are pluses and minuses. We now have a new top-of-the-line, larger and more secure embassy. And there's no blind eagle on the roof!