D.C. diplomatic missions produce coffee table books to show off their embassies, traditions

Are diplomatic missions in Washington trying to out-book each other, raising their countries’ profiles and drawing attention to the depth of their ties to the United States in beautifully illustrated coffee-table tomes that also make great gifts for visiting dignitaries? If so, “The Architecture of Diplomacy: The British Ambassador’s Residence in Washington” is upping the ante. The latest of several books about embassies’ architectural and diplomatic histories, this new volume about the English country house designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the 1920s to house the British Embassy is published by Paris-based Flammarion and distributed in the United States by the high-end arts-and-design house, Rizzoli.

Many of the other embassy books can be ordered online or found at local libraries. A few examples:

In June 2013, the Turkish ambassador threw a party to celebrate the publication of “The Turkish Ambassador’s Residence and the Cultural History of Washington D.C.” The Turkish government purchased Everett House at 1606 23rd St. in the 1930s, according to Caroline Mesrobian Hickman, a local art and architectural historian, who is one of the volume’s three authors. The house was built for a successful industrialist, Hickman said, and “it came with all the furnishings intact, and they were top of the line.” Tiffany mosaics and windows and Italian mannerist paintings are reproduced in this scholarly book, along with examples of distinctive Turkish additions to the interior that underwent an extensive restoration beginning in 2001.

In 2012, the Italian Embassy produced an English edition of “Il Palazzo sul Potomac” (“The Palace on the Potomac”) by former ambassador Gaetano Cortese to mark the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and of diplomatic relations between Italy and the United States. The book focuses on the strikingly geometric modern chancery on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Whitehaven Street, designed by Piero Sartogo Architetti and opened in 2000. It also includes the history and architecture of Villa Firenze, the Tudor-style residence of the Italian ambassador in Forest Hills, with an organ in its grand hall, and acres of open lawns. The embassy is in the process of updating the book to commemorate the Year of Italian Culture in the United States — a celebration throughout 2013 of Italy’s scientific, technological and artistic contributions to world culture, including descriptions of several events in D.C.

Other books include “La Residence de Kalorama” (2008), about the Tudor/Jacobean revival mansion at 2221 Kalorama Rd., the residence of the French ambassador, which served as the chancery from 1936 until 1985 when the current chancery was built on Reservoir Road. “The Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C.” (2005) celebrates the light-filled modern building at 3301 Massachusetts Ave. across from the Naval Observatory, known for its central party space — and its sauna. In 2010, the building gained recognition as the first green embassy in D.C.

Embassy Residences in Washington D.C.” gives an overview and visual tour of many of the most striking embassy buildings and the evolution of Embassy Row, with an introduction by local architectural historian Jane Loeffler. Embassies of Washington, by Carol Highsmith and Ted Landphair, also offers a broader view.

The May publication of “The Architecture of Diplomacy” coincides with Cultural Tourism D.C.’s seventh annual Passport D.C. — a month-long celebration of international culture, including street festivals, performances, exhibitions and tours of more than 50 embassies. The British ambassador’s residence will be open to the public, along with other E.U. embassies, on May 10.

Frances Stead Sellers is senior writer at The Washington Post magazine. She joined the magazine in 2014 after spending two years as the editor of the daily Style section, with a focus on profiles, personalities, arts and ideas.
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