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Swiss diplomacy at home

An embassy has been described by specialists as much more than a building or a work of architecture, representing the universal language of diplomacy. For Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, it should not be extravagant, just a symbol of quality and of a job well done.

A new book about Swiss representations abroad highlights 34 embassies, chancelleries, residences and consulates of patrimonial, historical as well as architectural interest. Among Swiss diplomacy’s most emblematic sites, these buildings are often considered to be real jewels of Switzerland’s 150 outposts on five continents.

Among those buildings are a number of palaces and mansions. “Some buildings already had close ties to Switzerland because they had belonged to Swiss noblemen who lived in Paris, Berlin or Rome,” says the book’s author, Catherine Courtiau. But there are also magnificent contemporary buildings such the townhouse built by a Zurich banker in Havana in the 1950s and rented out to the Swiss government in 1959.

Since the last century, the government has often called on Swiss architects for new buildings as well as to help adapt older ones to the technological, security and functional requirements of today.

Cortiau wasn’t able to visit each representation because of budget restrictions, but worked with the help of archives. “It’s difficult for an art historian to work with just photos: how do you see the difference between marble and stone, silk from wallpaper?” she explains.

“But this virtual journey turned out to be exciting because thanks to the research I was able to talk to many architects working abroad and meet all kinds of people.”

(Photos: BBL/OFCL – Text: Isabelle Eichenberger and Catherine Courtiau)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR