Make Mine With a Moat

U.S. Embassy in LondonIf you lose your passport in London in 2017, getting a replacement at the new U.S. embassy there will require crossing a moat -- or a partial moat, or a bit of a moat, as critics have called the 100-foot wide pond and landscaping that will surround the building, according to plans recently announced by the State Department.

Moats are, of course, all about defense. A deep, wide trench with or without water, is great for keeping enemies and armies at bay, or in this modern day case, the reality of bomb-throwing terrorists. Moats were very popular in Medieval Europe, especially in Britain, which is why it's somehow fitting that the $1 billion American embassy building, designed by Philadelphia architecture firm Kieran Timberlake, has a sort of moat that relates to its location on the banks of the Thames -- although New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff described the building itself as "a bland glass cube" with "all the glamour of a corporate office block."

Moats never really caught on in the U.S., as far as we can tell, but there are some folks who hanker after them, in one form or another at their homes.

R. Allen Stanford, for example, the Texas billionaire who starred last year in a Madoff-like mega-financial scandal, had a grandiose lifestyle that at one point featured a 57-room, 18,000-square-foot palace called the Wackenhut Castle in Coral Gables, Fla., which had a tower and a moat (but which was demolished in 2008), according to Bloomberg.

Then there's a guy named Jim Onan, a contractor with an interest in Egyptology, who built himself a 24-karat gold plated home in the shape of a pyramid in Wadsorth, Ill., surrounded by a moat (Here's the Google Earth view of what's being touted as the world's largest gold plated object).

Lately moats seem to be popping up in even more unusual places: Country music star Taylor Swift says she's redesigning her penthouse in a Nashville condo tower to include a moat-like pond around the living room fireplace (okay, it's a mini-moat, maybe with some koi fish and stepping stones, but a moat nonetheless).

And city dwellers can have a moat too, or at least share in a common moat experience. At the Platinum, a new condo on West 46th street in Manhattan, the 2,500-square foot lobby is "surrounded by a moat of moving water," according to the building's marketing materials.

I guess this is stretching the meaning of moat, which is why it's a good thing the U.S. embassy will sort of have the real thing -- and a fortress-like structure to go with it.

"The Art of Diplomacy
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