- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

The elegant glass-and-maple House of Sweden received stellar marks from King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden Monday night as they inaugurated their country’s new embassy on the banks of the Potomac.

“It is just beautiful,” Queen Silvia said. “It feels very Swedish.”

Swedish not just because it radiates elegant simplicity, straight lines and proximity to water and nature, but, as the king noted to about 120 VIP guests, also because of its transparency. The exterior glass walls allow it to be “in constant interaction with its surroundings,” he said just before tying together — rather than cutting — two ribbons, one blue and yellow (the Swedish colors), the other red, white and blue.

Swedes value transparency in government as well as architecture and can boast a long history of non-corrupt governments, said architect Gert Wingardh, who designed the building with Tomas Hansen.

“The design of the House of Sweden is representative of those values,” Mr. Wingardh noted as he walked past a dozen Swedish youngsters in traditional folkloric dress performing Swedish folk music along with key harp player Cajsa Ekstav and Orjan Englund on accordion.

The building, which is more than 80,000 square feet, has five floors and houses corporate offices, exhibition and function spaces as well as the embassy’s extensive quarters. The exhibit areas are open to the public most days of the week.

The second floor is dedicated to the embassy and, as several guests pointed out, Ambassador Gunnar Lund has the nicest view of any ambassador in Washington. His all-glass office occupies a southeastern corner with a vista that includes the Kennedy Center, the Potomac River and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

“I have to admit that I am a little bit jealous,” Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek said.

Mr. Lund, however, joked that so much glass isn’t always a good thing. “I’ve had colleagues who’ve walked into walls and doors … They’re naturally blue and yellow.”

Among the guests were Michael Wood, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden, who attended a White House luncheon earlier that day for the Swedish royals hosted by President and Mrs. Bush. Topics of conversation reportedly included alternative-fuel cars and the worldwide fight against terrorism.

Queen Silvia, dazzling in a magnificent parure of diamonds and rubies, didn’t divulge details but said, “It was a lovely time.”

Also in attendance at the embassy’s inauguration and gala dinner were Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Speaker of the Swedish Parliament Per Westerberg, ambassadors from Sweden’s neighbors Finland, Denmark and Iceland as well as representatives of various Swedish corporate sponsors, including Ikea, Volvo and Securitas.

After dinner of gravlax, trout roe, duck confit and white-chocolate blueberry mousse; songs by seductive Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman; and numerous “skal” (cheers) honoring the building and Swedish-American relations, former Swedish envoy Jan Eliasson paused to sum up the evening’s prevailing sentiments.

“After the murders of Olof Palme and Anna Lindh we could easily have become a society surrounded by thick, impenetrable walls,” Mr. Eliasson said. “But we didn’t. We maintain our belief in openness and freedom, and this building embodies that.”

Gabriella Boston

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