Reclaiming America’s Legation: One Roof, One Room At a Time

TALIM Jackhammer Americans, when they hear the term "roofing," may think of flimsy shingles nailed into plywood.  A weekend project for do-it-yourself carpenters.

Not Tangier.

Think concrete.  Think layers.  Many layers, like those encountered by an archeologist digging down into a Middle Eastern tell.  Unearthing layers of valiant attempts to combat Tangier's notorious rains, which, as novelist Paul Bowles once wrote, fill interiors with water every winter.

The man in the photo with a jackhammer is uncovering our own rooftop tell.  Over a foot's worth of concrete and tiles, covered over with more concrete and tiles.  Enough to give a structural engineer a heart attack.  We are, after all, in a seismic zone, and this is a building that includes 18th century sections.  Like putting a brick on top of a toothpick castle.

But the noise, vibrations, and dust are worth the inconvenience.  America's only National Historic Landmark overseas needs conserving, and it starts at the top.  Roof by roof.

TALIM Building Cross SectionIllustration: American Legation cross-section, courtesy State Department Overseas Building Operations (OBO, our "landlord").

Under our many roofs are lots of rooms, 45 I am told.  If it sounds like a lot, think again.  What constitutes a room?  Is a walk-in closet, or a storeroom, a "room?"  We have had several of these forgotten spaces, filling up with the detritus of the years.

Reclaiming these spaces is vital to the work going on up top.  The roofs are getting waterproofed, and the ceilings and walls under them refurbished.  But where does our art collection go in the meantime, especially those works not on exhibit?  Into those reclaimed spaces, of course.  So I have declared every underutilized space a priority zone, to be cleaned and painted.

Roof by roof, room by room.  It's very slow going, and requires lots of coordination and patience.  Thankfully my kids have named me "Step by Step."  In the meantime, my ears reverberate to the rhythm of the jackhammers.

Gerald Loftus

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