Ambassador Pyatt’s Remarks at the U.S. Embassy Renovation Groundbreaking

Ambassador Pyatt with Mayor of Athens Kaminis at the Official U.S. Embassy Renovation Groundbreaking (State Department Photo)

September 5, 2018

2:00 p.m.

Ambassador Pyatt:  Thank you, Bill.  Good afternoon everybody.  Mayor Kaminis, Father Thomas who has been such a good friend to this embassy, Ambassador Fotiadou, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s A7, Americas Division, all of our distinguished guests.  It is a great pleasure for us to have you all here today.

This is a very, very big week for the U.S.-Greece relationship as we get ready for the Thessaloniki International Fair.  Truly a landmark event in our partnership with Greece.

It’s only fitting, I think, that we launch our TIF week by marking the beginning of the five-year, $300 million U.S. dollar project to renovate the U.S. embassy and restore the Walter Gropius Building to its former glory.

We are very proud of the architecturally significant building that has served as the main platform for U.S. diplomacy in Greece since 1961 which, for the record, was before I was born.  But not by that much.  And through my conversations with Mayor Kaminis and others of you as we’ve prepared for this project and prepared for this ceremony, I’ve learned how important this building is to the Athens community and how important it has been as a part of this city’s enduring and unique landscape.

In designing the building Gropius consulted with a Greek architect, Pericles Sakkelarios in order, as he put it, to find the spirit of the Greek approach without imitating any classical means.  In other words, the architect was looking for a way to convey democracy and the Western values that were born here in Greece through a truly historic landmark building.  I want to assure you all that the State Department Overseas Building Operations Bureau and the architects and our main contractor, Cadell Construction, are working very hard to preserve the nature of this building over what will eventually be a five-year, $342 million renovation.  So I’m very glad that we have representatives of all three of these entities responsible for the project with us here today.

I say all of this knowing that we also have with us here today Dimitris Dimopoulos who I was just talking to, the son of the Greek architect who was a close associate of Gropius and his team and the local contractor for the construction of the chancellery through 1961.

Mr. Dimopoulos has shared with the embassy documents and photographs from his father’s archives which we have used in past commemorative events, and we are very grateful to the family for sharing that with us.

I also want to thank my friend Alexandros Samaras who made a beautiful presentation about the history of this building at its 60th anniversary, and his research provided invaluable insights into Gropius’ methods and techniques, the things that make this building behind me so unique.

And as Alex knows, my son is also an architect practicing in California, so he has taught me to have a special respect for that particular craft or art form, depending on your point of view.

And given that it’s the 70th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program, our premier educational exchange program, it’s also fitting that we have with us today a Fulbright alumnus and renowned photographer, Yorgis Yerolympos. Yorgis did a tribute to the building, taking the last artistic photos of the Gropius building before reconstruction began, and these photographs are now a part of the history of this unique architectural landmark, and we’ve finished them on many of our embassy sites.

Finally, I want to reiterate that we are beginning this renovation in the same year that the United States assumes its role as Honored Country for the Thessaloniki International Fair.  That event and the simultaneous launch of this project is symbolic of our commitment to modernizing and expanding our relationship.  This building demonstrates our strong and enduring commitment to our alliance with Greece.

So, I want to thank the architects, Cadell Construction, and our main Greek subcontractor for undertaking this huge project and for doing it in a way that will minimize the impact on the neighborhood and our neighbors around this truly historic building.

So I thank you all for being with us today, and I especially want to acknowledge the strong support that we’ve had throughout from the Mayor and from all of the acting city administration.

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