The Modernist Tangier American Consulate General

TALIM CG Tangier ArchDiplomacy1961… Fifty years ago, a modernist architectural edifice in "New Tangier" replaces the Gift of the Sultan.

[T]he Tangier Legation was an exception.  Before 1821, and for a long while after, the United States owned no property abroad…

[In the 1950s and 60s] Projects such as Tangier… designed by young "stars" such as Hugh Stubbins, created lasting landmarks…

Jane C. Loeffler, The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies (Revised 2nd Edition, 2011)

Dr. Loeffler appropriately starts the first chapter of her fascinating story of American diplomatic buildings with the very first one, the Tangier American Legation.  But she provides a wealth of detail about the building that is our subject today: the modernist structure that 50 years ago, in the fall of 1961, became the American Consulate General in Tangier.

Alas, the "lasting landmark" that Stubbins designed served a mere quarter century before the United States decided that it no longer needed a Consulate General in Tangier.  Happily, our Gift of the Sultan, the Tangier American Legation, has had a fuller life – we are 190 this year, and already thinking about our bicentennial.

TALIM CG Tangier COB W view cropped
A new building for the Legation had often been talked about, as far back as a century ago in 1911, when the business lobby the American Embassy Association called attention to the state of the Tangier Legation building in its publication American Embassies, Legations, and Consulates Mean Better Foreign Business: An Argument in Pictures and Paragraphs.

But Moroccan independence came in 1956 with the historic building still in the medina, the legacy of Sultan Moulay Slimane since 1821.  The Legation building continued for another five years as the US Consulate General, then morphed to its new life in 1961 with the opening of the Stubbins structure.

TALIM CG Tangier site plan cropped
Hugh Stubbins, one of Jane Loeffler's "star" American architects, was an Eero Saarinen contemporary, and went on to design a number of landmarks.  Writes Loeffler:

In Tangier… Hugh Stubbins employed screens mainly to create an animated architecture.  Stubbins has compared the Tangier screen to one he designed soon after for the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  His idea, he says, was to provide some daytime privacy and to allow the building to glow from within at night.

Though the Stubbins buildings, sold when the US decided to close the Consulate, still stand, the distinctive screens on the office building have given way to a monolithic facade, added by the current occupants, the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior and its Tangier Wilaya Council.  The removal of the modernist screens was decried by the Moroccan architectural community, to no avail.

The aerial photo below, from the 1960s when the building probably still smelled of fresh cement, shows empty fields surrounding the site.  Today, it is the center of an upscale residential neighborhood, though the trademark security wall surrounding the property is much as it would have been in its heyday as an American Consulate General. 

TALIM CG Tangier 1961 cropped
Times change, as do diplomatic priorities.  By the 1980s, it was no longer deemed necessary to maintain an American consular presence in the city which had been Morocco's diplomatic gateway to the world, and the site of an American diplomatic or consular representation since the 1790s.  The Consul General's residence (photo above, left) is now the headquarters of the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen.

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Thanks to Jane Loeffler and Ken Rogers, who was US Consul General in Tangier 1980-85, for photos and illustrations.

Gerald Loftus

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