Aerial Photo: Catherine Bassetti, 1983. Other photos by Bassetti and Kirk.
This is an architect's story of the design and construction of the U.S. Embassy Chancery and Consulate in Lisbon, Portugal, from 1978 to 1984.
The project was completed 40 years ago. During the project, Jimmy Carter was president, the Iran embassy hostage crisis began, Mount St. Helens erupted, and disco was king. So, why tell this story now?
Embassies and consulates are interesting buildings with unique cultures and designs. They are associated with exotic foreign places and international diplomacy and intrigue. They represent and serve the public, yet they are highly specialized, secretive, and heavily secured, so we are generally unaware of them, and see them only if we have trouble in another country.
This is a relatively unknown project, not a high-profile architectural statement by a celebrity architect in a major world capital. It is a more subtle project, located in an historic European city on a beautiful, pastoral site with significant 17th Century structures.
The project has passed the test of time. It has met the needs and expectations of several generations of State Department staff, evolving over time but remaining basically as designed. The architecture has aged well, like good Port, and probably more gracefully than many more glamorous embassy projects.
This website is not just technical documentation of a building. It grew into the story of the people and the process of creating the building, before the advent of computers and the internet. As you would expect, many original documents had been lost, and most remaining copies were faded and in poor condition. Most of the images are digital scans of old 35mm slides of the buildings and drawings. Memories have also faded, but less than might be expected. We recognized at the time that this experience was unique and probably wouldn’t happen again, so we savored every minute and tried to preserve the memories.