The European Union is a political body underpinned by the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. Since the 1957 Rome treaties, all the institutions of the community - previously called the European Economic Community, the European Community and then the EU - were envisioned as parts of a progressive process that bought together expertise and that was never intended to over-ride the sovereignty of its individual member states. Following Maastricht, first the so called European constitution in 2004 - rejected by the French referendum - and then the Treaty of Lisbon - which currently forms the institutional basis of the Union - 27 countries came together economically, politically and in part also culturally, although the latter is not laid out in the institutional treaties.
This process has always been legitimised by a generic cultural discourse, that is summed up by the notion that a European Union can exist because its nations share similar cultural traits. This concept, summarized with the motto “United in diversity” comes up again and again in documents and speeches about the Union, and suggests that the EU bring Europeans together creating peace and prosperity and that many diverse cultures, traditions and languages united constitute the wealth of the continent. This heritage - a term often cited in European documents - can hence forth be passed onto future generations.
Nevertheless, as the German philosopher Habermas highlights, the current economic crisis has brought to light the Union’s structural flaws that can only be overcome with a suitable political reaction. "The EU does not have the remit necessary to harmonise national economies, which are marked by drastic divergences in their capacity to compete […] Non-binding agreements in the circle of government leaders are either ineffective or anti-democratic, and it is for this reason that they should be replaced by common decisions taken in a clearly defined institutional framework".
In this period of serious and prolonged global economic crisis that we are experiencing today, Europe and its values founded on common cultural traits, peace and advocacy of human rights are faced with competition from emerging economies in Asia and South America, whose growth is not always accompanied by an adequate legal and social developments. On a global scale, it looks like the EU’s authority, economic strength, and cultural dimension might be set to lose its prevalence. A European diplomatic service has recently been created as an initiative to confront this risk.
This service is intended to secure a consultation with representatives of the member states of the Union on an international level. This operation is currently stalling; one could indeed say it never took off, due of member’s differences concerning foreign policies since the gulf war.
We take into account all of these factors and, therefore, we advocate a new European governance with a univocal development strategy in order to redraw an elevated place for the EU on the international stage.
As declared by some of the founding fathers of the Europe "the question which must be resolved first - failing which process is a mere appearance - is definitive abolition of division of Europe into national, sovereign states". "The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present; they cannot ensure their own progress or control their own future".
Taking inspiration from these words, we imagined a future European Union where member countries join/renounce elements of their sovereignty in favour of the rise of a supranational political entity. As architects, we translated this idea into an architectural project, a building able to represent this political change, where all diversities can be housed under a common roof and institution: a European Embassy. The extraterritorial status of the embassy gives way to situate the construction in a foreign country while keeping it under European jurisdiction.
Such a project can only be implemented were international institutions already have their headquarters, since that is where the new Europe needs to be recognized as a political player. Therefore, the selected location is New York, and more precisely in close proximity to the United Nations Headquarters, in conjunction with the demand for a European seat in the Security Council of the UN.
A suitable building lot has been identified next to the “glass palace” - adjacent to the Robert Moses Playground - on the East river waterfront. We felt that this area was the ideal place to situate our building.
The role of embassy, as said, is to represent a common political view, rising from the richness based on diverse cultures, traditions and languages of Europe. In this terms, the vocation of this institution is based on the shaping of a political force that takes the strength from the common cultural roots.
The architectural proposal aims to house different functions in the same place, highlighting the cultural richness originated by the diversities. With this purpose we decide to redefine the embassy in typological terms, introducing unprecedented functions. First of all the building is released from its typical "fortification" and opened to the city and the citizens. This is admittedly intended to give it a new "homeostatic capacity, or rather making it spatially defined, and yet traversable" . This is made possible with two simple but significant operations, replacing its characteristic wall with a line on the ground - as in the playground - and lifting the building liberating a large public space on the ground floor. These operations permit to open a new place where cultural events - managed in rotation by each of the EU member countries - produce opportunities for diffusion of European culture, and exchange knowledge with people from all over the world. In this sense the main diplomatic mission is literally to initiate a new process of thinking, oriented to stimulate a renewed perception of Europe and of its role.