Saturday, July 17, 2004

Embassy Lament

Somehow I missed it yesterday, but Ghost of a Flea opined on the American Embassy here in Ottawa. To add my two cents, I thought I'd throw in this shot of the rather less classically-inspired Mackenzie Avenue side of the building. This was taken shortly after the death of President Reagan, as one might infer from the flag flying at half-mast. The National Gallery is visible in the background; while it's unfortunate that this angle requires viewing the building from the less-traveled side, the embassy does in fact blend with its surroundings much better than most pedestrians will notice. I like the gestalt; I've never understood those who continually bitch about it being a postmodern eyesore ruining the view on Sussex. (Well, that's not true. I know what their more likely motivations for architectural criticism are.) Although, granted, it's not quite as nice as the perfectly Georgian Neoclassical of the old embassy (now the Portrait Gallery of Canada). A slightly more legitimate complaint, one which City Council and the usual local rabble-rousers occasionally raise, is the presence of concrete barriers along the front; they do cause a bit of a bottleneck for traffic on one of Lowertown's main corridors. I wouldn't care even if I did regularly drive, and on Sussex; as we've seen, it doesn't take getting very close with a truck bomb to do a lot of damage. Said whiners would do well to remember the primary global guarantors of their right to rouse rabble. Another security precaution - neatly hidden - explains the rather strange mansard roof of the central cupola. Look closely at the shadow cast by the overhang in the blowup photo. That's not just a decorative roof; it's a 360-degree-view watchtower, with convenient glare protection for the observer. I have no doubt there are armed marines up there, same as in the guardhouse at the street entrance. They're certainly earning their pay; I can think of at least three or four dozen hidey-holes in a two-block radius where a sniper might conceal himself, or where improvised explosives might be hidden. Half of those involve the back side of the Ch√Ęteau Laurier. It's a dense block. But, admittedly, the location of the old embassy was probably worse, in addition to being incredibly tiny. I suppose the risk assessment was strategically calculated to be acceptable for this location and design, which only makes the fact of fairly attractive architecture even more pleasing; it's a win-win situation.

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