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The Architectural History of the Embassy

Build in 1960 as the first modern embassy in Washington DC, the Danish Embassy has a fascinating story as well as a distinguished Danish architectural design.

Bulding on an idea
After World War II, Danish Ambassador to the United States Henrik Kauffmann (1888–1963) suggested that Denmark needed a new embassy building. At the time, Kaufmann’s idea was very innovative since most countries bought large American mansions to house their representations. The Danish Ambassador, however, believed that designing a new building would have several advantages.

Most importantly, Ambassador Kauffmann thought an embassy should represent national values, traditions and ideas. A Washington mansion in the classic style would never be able to reflect Denmark and the diplomatic actions taking place inside the building in the same way a new modern building could.

Entrance - The entrance to the Embassy appears open and transparent.
Ambassador Kaufmann was convinced Washington would become an even greater centre for world politics than it was in 1953.

Reasons for constructing a new embassy were also very practical. While buying an existing mansion might have been the cheapest solution, Ambassador Kaufmann believed placing offices in the same building as the Ambassador’s residence would lower expenses in the long term. Kauffmann wrote:

“If the different sections are gathered in one new and modern decorated building the work will be more efficient, several expenses will be reduced and some will even vanish completely. The love of work will increase and the number of days lost through illness will go down.”

Placing the Ambassador’s residence in the same building as the chancellery would also lower costs by reducing transportation time to and from the Embassy as well as reducing the need for maintenance staff.

The building
Standing on the hilltop at the end of Whitehaven Street, the building today consists of two parts: the chancellery, containing all the offices, and the Ambassador’s residence with the representation rooms.

The entrance hall of the Ambassador’s residence – which functions as a large and open porch – greets visitors. The design of the entrance leaves guests with a friendly and hospitable first impression.

This first impression is particularly important since, for many people, the first impression of the building is also their first impression of Denmark. This good first impression also serves to facilitate favorable negotiations and closer ties between Danes and Americans.

Residence entrance hall - Visitors are greeted with a light and friendly first impression.

The simple appearance of the exterior of the building is also reflected in the interior: for instance, white marble from Greenland is used on the inside as well as the outside of the building.

The white walls combine with large windows, allowing in lots of natural lighting, making the Embassy appear light, open and welcoming.

Articulated - The facade of the Ambassador's residence is prominent and richly designed with balconies, sliding doors and shutters.

The interior is stately and dignified, but at the same time, unpretentious. In line with Danish modesty, equalitarianism and democratic principles, the modernist architectural style is known for clean lines and humble expressions.