12 June, 2024

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Display Of Ideology Through The Architecture: The Case Of The US Embassy In Sri Lanka

By Punsara Amarasinghe

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe

The role of architecture and the built environment -more generally for political purposes is evidenced from the most ancient times throughout history. When British ruled India, their concern in constructing edifices were rooted in the imperial ambition of colonial power projection, which intended to last for the good. In general, architecture can legitimate authority and, by interpreting ideals through physical form may serve an inspiration. The geopolitical rivalry that existed between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War period contained several dimensions, in which their quest for embody their ideological impetus were ideally symbolized by the different approaches to construct their embassy buildings around the world. 

The newly opened the US embassy complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka is an apt illustration of displaying greater American influence over a nation engulfed debt, inflation and many other hullabaloos. The modernist architecture blended with the Sri Lankan traditions in the US embassy building Colombo is a kaleidoscopic marvel denoting American democratic ideals to the island nation. The opening ceremony held in 2022 October was graced by Ranil Wickemesinghe, the President of Sri Lanka and in her address the US ambassador to Sri Lanka did not forget to mention the intrinsic designs deployed by the constructers to depict the history and culture of the island. Indeed, this is a stark contrast to the other important embassy buildings located in Colombo as many of them reflect the rigidness and pomp of their states. The example of the embassy building of People’s Republic of China in Colombo cerates no alluring sight to the public with its extreme fortification bolstered by long walls, which may lead to affirm the negative perception among Sri Lankan to view China as an occupier beyond a conjecture. The Russian embassy compound in Colombo is akin to the same shabbiness displayed by the Chinese embassy building and Russia’s militant outlook towards its global affairs reflect from the coarse structure of the embassy building, which stands as a military complex surrounded by a hostile neighbourhood. The former location of the Russian embassy in Colombo had more congenial atmosphere as it was located in a house belonged to a Sri Lankan philanthropist named Sir Earnest de Silva in city’s one of affluent residential area, but the construction of the present building of Russian Federation’s embassy was a process developed after Sri Lanka strengthened its ties with Russia during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration. One can argue that both China and Russia devoid of using more sophisticated strategies like using architecture to attract the public as both states have an anathema towards American styled public diplomacy. This was fairly visible in in the embassy building process of the post-colonial world in the 50s and 60’s, where the US was ahead of the curve by choosing much modernist approaches in designing its embassy buildings in the Global South. For instance, the US embassy building constructed in New Delhi in 1954 was a Tropical Modern Parthenon to compete with the outrageous Stalinist kitsch of the Russian embassy building. 

The newly opened the US embassy complex in Colombo

The question arising by viewing the architectural aggrandizement of the US embassy building is that what exactly Americans expect in the island nation. China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean Region and in particular, Chinese presence in Sri Lanka have been continuously monitored by both the US and India. It should be noted that both states show an alacrity in uplifting their public diplomacy in Sri Lanka by various means to confront the Chinese presence in Sri Lanka. Given China’s rejuvenated interest in Buddhism, India seems to have shown a special interest in securing its historical links with Sri Lanka through Buddhist roots. The paintings displayed on the walls of Indian High Commission in Colombo shows pacifying images of Buddha as a powerful diplomatic message to the island nation. 

In discussing about the influences emanating from the embassy architecture, we need to understand the overall thematic purpose of architecture consists of two major aspects: utility (function, content) and aesthetics (beauty, style, form), most generally defined. If function is constant, as is the case for one type of buildings, variation in form must necessarily reflect values. As ND Guneova argues that embassy architecture in the post-cold war scenario is deeply imbued with highlighting the political and socio-cultural values that the home countries strive to admire and which is the exact reflection of the newly built American embassy compound in Colombo.

While facing the large rising structures of China’s controversial Port City in Colombo, the newly built US embassy gives more sanguine feeling for its visitors as sanctuary containing American modernity twisted with Sri Lanka’s art and culture. From a vantage point, the elegant structure of the US embassy in Colombo conveys the grandeur owned by the United States as the super power regardless of its gradual decay in the post 9/11 world. But more than the grandeur displayed in the embassy building, the deeper political message stems from it shows America’s interest to show her pluralistic values in a place where such values are at stake.  

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Latest comments

  • 7
    1

    Brilliant display of grovelling. Laughable even. Maybe a Green Card is on the way.

    • 3
      4

      Obviously you haven’t a clue about what the writer is conveying.

      • 4
        0

        Svenson,
        You are probably right!!
        That article content by the writer, went “swish”, and “over the top”, content of which unnoticeably or probably incomprehensibly!!!

        • 3
          2

          M
          Can someone paraphrase the “content” for people blinded by the glitter?

      • 3
        2

        S
        What will you call this:
        “US embassy building Colombo is a kaleidoscopic marvel denoting American democratic ideals to the island nation.”

        • 3
          1

          Kaleidoscopic?
          As far as I can see, it’s mostly white. Is the other side green or purple?

          • 1
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            oc
            Perhaps it is a view through a kaleidoscope fitted with colour filters and meant for the colour blind.
            Others should use their imagination.

        • 2
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          Well its a poor attempt, but Architecture can actually be used socially and politically.
          https://www.aljazeera.com/program/rebel-architecture/2014/8/12/eyal-weizman-the-architecture-of-occupation

  • 2
    0

    What? They all look like boringly square buildings with some columns and windows. US embassy in a prime location near the sea and looks a bit glossier after Lankan workers shine the windows daily. Unlike the other two, they have enough money to provide good security both human and computerized, with robotics. They should have made it look like a wigwam for truth, accountability, and authenticity.

    • 4
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      Ramona
      “They all look like boringly square buildings with some columns and windows.”
      Absolutely true, madam. This time.

    • 3
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      rtf
      Very true.

    • 2
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      ramona therese fernando

      “They all look like boringly square buildings with some columns and windows.”

      Are you of the opinion US Embassy should have applied Dravidian Architecture design to its building like the Jaffna Library?

    • 0
      0

      “provide good security”

      Security that a lowly 21-year-old Air National Guardsman can easily breach?

      Are you trying to impress OC with America’s capabilities?

      If you want to win the man’s heart ……. you are going about it the wrong way! :))

  • 3
    2

    What a funny article. “…the elegant structure of the US embassy in Colombo conveys the grandeur owned by the United States….”
    Does killing approximately 30 million people for the last two decades also a part of grandeur? How many US Presidents killed innocent people in Asia, West Asia and Africa to increase their ratings at home and abroad? Does American genocide against Native Americans who were denigrated as “the merciless Indian savages” also count? Is destabilizing and destroying other countries a contributory factor to the grandeur “earned” by the US?
    “……. America’s interest to show her pluralistic values……”
    Pluralistic values, my foot! Oi, Punsara, America’s pluralistic values only apply to their country. Theri intolerance towards a globalized pluralistic world is shown in their actions.
    American Presidents are puppets. The show is run by their officials. But, I see Mr. Biden is different. Like his predecessors, he also let his officials to take decisions. However, he masters in promptly intervening in matters of importance. The best example is, when Ukraine launched a false flag attack in Poland and tried to attribute it to Russia, Mr. Biden wasted no time in exposing Ukraine. The US and NATO officials didn’t have a choice but to maintain the same view.
    Contd’……..

    • 3
      1

      President Joe Biden has officially announced that he is running for re-election. Who will be his Vice President in 20234? I give my full support to Mr. Biden if he choses Rear Admiral John Kirby as his Vice President for his second term. Americans like Kirby. They say “he is Presidential material”. Unfortunately, Kamala Haris lost the opportunity to “shine” or maybe, the “White journalism” in the US didn’t let her. I remember them slandering her every word until she disappeared from the world scene.
      I think Mr. Biden should officially promote a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis. Now, more than ever. I don’t see any reason for him to win the 2024 Presidential Election over Ukrainian dead bodies. According to a German media report, Ukraine has attempted to assassinate the Russian President by a killer drone loaded with explosives, anticipating a visit by him at Rudnevo, a Technopolis city, on Sunday (23). Russia’s GPS-jamming may have prevented the drone reaching its destination. Anyway, being the fearless President he is, Mr. Putin has visited the same Rudnevo today (27) to discuss Russian manufactured drones!

      • 3
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        I wish Mr. Putin a long, healthy life!!!

        • 3
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          Champa

          “I wish Mr. Putin a long, healthy life!!!”

          Have you stopped wishing your hero Wimal Sangili Karuppan a long healthy life?
          Lately he is highly critical of his former hero strong man a Sinhla/Buddhist Gota.
          Do you know why?

          • 2
            1

            Oooops….. The first three lines of my second comment should read as follows:
            “President Joe Biden has officially announced that he is running for re-election. Who will be his Vice President in 2024? I give my full support to Mr. Biden if he will choose Rear Admiral John Kirby as his Vice President.”

      • 1
        1

        Champa dear,
        “Who will be his Vice President in 20234?”
        That’s almost 20,000 years away. Don’t you worry too much about it. Even Mr. Putin won’t live that long.

        • 2
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          old codger,
          I know that at times we visit CT for the fun of it.
          But, a slip is a slip. This time literally.

          • 1
            1

            Nathan,
            “But, a slip is a slip. This time literally.”
            You’re the last person I would have expected to talk about female underwear.

        • 2
          1

          old codger

          “That’s almost 20,000 years away. Don’t you worry too much about it. Even Mr. Putin won’t live that long.”

          Do you think this island would survive that long as a Sinhala/Buddhist nation?
          Would Rajapaksas clan be able to extend their life, rule and power for another 18,000 years?

          Small trimmers are being recorded inland and off sea areas. Recently earth quack was registered 25 miles off Hambantota. SJ must be highly worried about Chinese investments and land grab in and around that area.

          • 2
            0

            ‘Recently earth quack was registered 25 miles off Hambantota.’
            .
            What is earth quack, Peking Duck?

  • 2
    1

    Ol’ Ranil and his supporters will tell ye Albert Speer was the greatest architect. Have you seen Berlin? It’s all squares. It’s beautiful in a brutal way.

    Nothing wrong with squares ……… All good Nazis were square: just like tinpot Ranil and his dressed for work Black-Shirts.

    Look at America’s greatest architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work ……. it’s all squares …….. influenced by the Aztecs.

    John Lautner was not squares ……. mind-blowing-ly imagined soaring structures.


    Good to see the husband calling the wife madam ……… hope it’s in a nice way!!! :)))

    Last madam was in the Mustang Ranch …….. all dressed up in pink feathers!

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