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Un Pavillon – Un Monument: The Modern Palace and the Case of the U.S. Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan (1955–59)

Authors: Marcos Amado Petroli


This paper investigates civic representation in mid-century diplomatic buildings through the case of the U.S. Embassy in Karachi (1955-59), Pakistan, designed by the Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra (1892-1970) and the American architect Robert Alexander (1907-92). Texts, magazines, and oral histories at that time highlighted the need for a new postwar expression of American governmental architecture, leaning toward modernization, technology, and monumentality. Descriptive, structural, and historical analyses of the U.S. Embassy in Karachi revealed the emergence of a new prototypical solution for postwar diplomatic buildings: the combination of one main orthogonal block, seen as a modern-day corps de logis, and a flanking arcuated pavilion, often organized in one or two stories. Although the U.S. Embassy relied on highly industrialized techniques and abstract images of social progress, archival work at the Neutra’s archives at the University of California, Los Angeles, revealed that much of this project was adapted to vernacular elements and traditional forms—such as the intriguing use of reinforced concrete barrel vaults.

Keywords: Modern monumentality, post-WWII diplomatic buildings, theory of character, thin-shells.

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