The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library is now home to one of the largest collections of diplomatic architectural history, courtesy of donor Jane Loeffler, a pioneer in the field.
The Jane C. Loeffler Collection of Research Papers on American Embassies is made up of articles, interviews, State Department documents, photographs, drawings, and pictures collected during Loeffler's decades of writing papers, articles, and books—a collection larger than any other archive, including that of the U.S. Department of State.
Loeffler's work, which began in 1979 as part of a planned exhibit at the National Building Museum, quickly grew into a larger project as she saw the subject change radically before her eyes in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis.
"I made a simple history of that subject," Loeffler said in a recent interview with Spectator. "As I did, I met several people who had just escaped Iran before the embassy was stormed. That and other things showed me how political this whole subject was, and how it was not just about design, but really about politics, government, and how we relate to the world in many ways."
Though the exhibit was abandoned, Loeffler took her research on diplomatic architectural history with her as she returned to school, hoping to pursue what was still an underdeveloped field of study.
"I ended up quitting and then went back to school, and I decided, 'No one has ever done this before, so I am going to do it,'" she said. "So I did and out of it came a paper, and then an article, and then eventually my dissertation, and then eventually my book."
The book, "The Architecture of Diplomacy," explored the dangers that terrorism presented to embassies in the context of the 1983 Beirut embassy bombings. Soon after the book was published, twin attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania made it clear that embassies would be a key focus for terrorists—something that is still a pressing concern.
"They [the embassies] are the first target, the most accessible target," Loeffler said. "That happened in the '80s with the embassies. I never intended to be focusing on security as I started this work, talking about the '50s. ... You see the thread of security starting in the '60s in Saigon, then more and more attacks, and then the attacks in Beirut, and then Nairobi and Dar es Salaam."
"We see all these things on the news and the attacks on the embassies. These issues are not just theoretical ones—they involve people's lives and family's lives," Janet Parks, Avery's curator of drawings and archives, said about the exhibit.
But beyond making the issues more present, the materials in the collection provide a comprehensive look at embassy design through the years.
"You get a sense of how the government was working through the embassies at this time," Parks said. "And when architects look at these buildings, it behooves them to look at what was happening in politics and history at that time. They get a good crossover topic for history and architecture."
"It's really important that other students than just architecture students will use it," Loeffler said.