Behold, a mighty marvel of modern engineering mustered, called forth a great expense and no small effort, summoned to preserve the artifice of decades past! This was and will be the Chinese Embassy Chancery and Staff Residence, originally constructed in 1923 as the St. Alban’s Apartment House.
Demolition experts tighten these steel bands, bracing the bricks and mortar of this seven-story edifice. Towers arise, doing their part to buttress the skin, as its native skeleton – two whole sides and the entire internal structure – is demolished. Leveled. Laid flat, after the Chinese style so popular in recent years. Everything on the lot at 2310 Connecticut Ave NW could well have been vaporized, except for the remaining facade which stands propped up on heavy metal life support.
Back home, the term for the homes of the rare and stubborn families who resist dramatic, unilateral efforts at Chinese demolition are called Dingzihu – “nail houses.” As in, the ones that stick. The ones that hold things up.
They are links to the past that slow progress toward a newer, brighter world order.
In China, zoning decisions are rarely a matter of public discussion, and the Party is not really accustomed to requesting anything. But this is the District of Columbia, the heart of the old American world order. You have to seek several levels of approval for something this drastic, especially in an old neighborhood like Kalorama at the south end of Taft Bridge.
And this has to be as strong argument as any against Chinese democracy. I picture a disingenuously obsequious Chinese cadre, kowtowing before the local ANC. Armchair urban planners drunk on their own power, the final word in their own small fiefdom, exercising their democratically-vested authority over men more used to an oligarchy that puts even federally-dominated DC to shame.
Come on down. Watch history stripped to its barest structural elements in an epic compromise between competing needs and values.
Forget the inside.
All it takes these days is a convincingly timeworn facade, and you can call it authentic.
A zine documenting my modest efforts to explore disused, abandoned, and decaying structures in the Washington, DC metro area. Sites covered include the United Brick Corporation, Klingle Road, New York Avenue, and the ruins of the old Capitol Building facade. Featuring content not found on the DCinruins site. Proceeds benefit further urban exploration in the DC area.