Posts tagged with "London":

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Grenfell Tower site is entrusted to victims for a memorial

The United Kingdom has announced that it will be turning over the future of the Grenfell Tower site in West London over to victims and families of those affected by the devastating fire in June of last year that ultimately claimed 72 lives. In a statement released this morning, the UK’s Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government outlined a set of principles for guiding decision-making at the site with those affected given majority control–it’s presumed that the site will be razed and become a memorial moving forwards. The agreement was jointly forged and signed by the government, the survivors, and the local Kensington and Chelsea council. While the burned-out remnants of the council-owned tower block are still standing, it’s expected that the gutted remains will be torn down at the end of 2018 following an in-depth forensic analysis. In a scathing interim report, Dame Judith Hackitt, part of a group evaluating the government’s failure in preventing the fire, placed the blame on cost cutting and the negligence of the regulatory system. It isn’t the first charge levied against the government for being complicit in the Grenfell disaster, and a debate on public housing has been roiling Britain since last summer. Public officials are hoping that handing over the fate of Grenfell Tower to the community will alleviate some of the blowback and have stressed that this agreement is meant to bring closure to the affected. The local Latimer Road Tube station may also be renamed to Grenfell at some point in the future. “Since day one of my leadership I have been clear,” said the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council, Elizabeth Campbell. “The council will listen every step of the way to the survivors, the bereaved, and the wider community and assist in any way it can to ensure that a lasting memorial is put in place.” The full text of the principles can be found here. It’s uncertain whether the move will assuage anger at the government over the Grenfell fire, as the investigation has seemingly stalled out in recent months. It may also do little to combat claims that the flammable cladding was installed to improve views of the tower from the wealthier communities nearby.
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Remembering Neave Brown, a champion of smart public housing

Two months before he died, in poor health and noticeably frail, architect Neave Brown packed East London’s Hackney Empire to capacity: 1,300 predominantly young architects came to hear from the man who had just been awarded the RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal. They gave him a standing ovation. Brown, who died on January 9, age 88, was the antithesis of the starchitect. He had completed his last building in the UK nearly 40 years earlier and a decade later finally put down his (pre-digital) drafting pens to become a painter. The medal came as a result of a reappraisal of his contribution to the architecture of housing and citymaking against the contemporary backdrop of a housing crisis, an expanding city, and the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. Brown studied at London’s Architectural Association in the 1950s and was not alone in rejecting tower blocks as a model for the future, but few did more to develop an alternative model and do so with such a high level of architectural ambition and skill. His was a street-based architecture, low, ground-hugging, and dense, that owed as much to his admiration for the Georgian terraces of London as it did to a more apparent inspiration—Le Corbusier, for Brown had been both designer and cocurator of the retrospective of the Swiss architect’s work held at the Hayward gallery in 1987. In 1965, Brown completed a terrace of five houses at Winscombe Street in the London Borough of Camden. To meet the government’s demanding Parker Morris Committee space standards, Brown ingeniously created interior spaces that afforded both spaciousness and flexibility. Although thoroughly modern, the terrace fit the London street pattern, with clearly identifiable front doors a few steps up from the pavement and a shared garden behind. It encouraged sociability, a place where neighbors could and would drop by. It was here at Winscombe Street that Brown and his wife, Janet, brought up their children Victoria, Aaron, and Zoe, putting his ideas about the “intergenerational home” to the test. In the same year, Camden Borough Council appointed Sydney Cook as its chief architect committed to finding new models of low-rise high-density housing. Meeting Brown and visiting Winscombe Street convinced Cook that he had found the architect to design Camden’s future. Brown’s first project for Camden, Fleet Road, comprised 72 flats and a shop, with planted shared roof terraces and individual balconies and gardens. Built at the same density as a tower block, it rose from one to four stories. In later years Brown moved from Winscombe Street to Fleet Road, again becoming both resident architect and conscientious neighbor. Brown’s most famous project, Alexandra Road estate, was not so much a housing scheme as a microcosm of the modern city, incorporating a community center, two schools, shops, a youth club, and a maintenance depot, as well as 500 terraced homes along a gently curving street. Each flat has its front door to the street and a balcony facing south. The street and, parallel to it, a linear park contributed two new and distinctive public spaces to the city. Built at a time of rocketing inflation, the costs spiraled, and this, along with the uncompromising modernity of the design, caused controversy. The political changes brought by Margaret Thatcher effectively took housing out of the hands of local authorities and placed it with the national house builders. The future of London became, for a period, suburban in style and density. The experiment with low-rise high-density housing was stopped short, and Brown had to look beyond Britain for work. It was the public spaces of Alexandra Road and the integration of complex social facilities with housing that attracted the aldermen of The Hague to appoint Brown in 1987 to design a project of equivalent complexity and even higher density on the Zwolsestraat, marking the boundary of the city to the sand dunes and sea. Designed with David Porter, the project was at an advanced stage, with the building rising from the ground, when the developer-client determined to discard the intricate street-based public realm as designed and replace it with deck access. The architects relinquished the project. Brown was more successful with a delicate cluster of apartments built outside Bergamo in Italy and a second Dutch project, the Medina from 1993–2002, designed for central Eindhoven and aided by Jo Coenen, the state architect for Holland. In 2012, Brown was invited by the residents to join them to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the project’s completion. The architectural quality of Brown’s British projects was confirmed by their listing as historic monuments (Alexandra Road in 1993, Fleet Road in 2010, and Winscombe Street in 2014). As significant was Brown’s evident rapport with those that lived in the homes he designed. The listing of Alexandra Road as “Grade 2” (Buckingham palace is Grade 1) inspired the film, made in 2010 by residents about their experiences, entitled One Below the Queen. Alexandra Road was completed just as architects were becoming “postmodern.” Brown was not unhappy to be considered an ‘’old-fashioned modernist’’ remaining intellectually engaged with the formal language of architecture and its relevance to an inclusive society. The reappraisal of Brown’s work comes at a time when London’s population is rapidly growing, there is a housing shortage, and London’s skyline is under threat. We are again seeking new models for raising density but maintaining the scale of the city.
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Frida Escobedo is selected to design the 2018 Serpentine Pavilion

Mexico City-based architect Frida Escodebo has been selected to design the 2018 Serpentine Pavilion in London, making her both the youngest architect selected for the commission, as well as the first solo woman to take on the project since Zaha Hadid in 2000. Escodebo, who AN profiled last year after her eponymous firm won the Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award, has designed a perforated pavilion that draws on the architecture and materials of both Britain and Mexico. The pavilion is based around a central interior courtyard, a common feature in domestic Mexican architecture, and is made up of two rectangular volumes, one inside the other. The volumes will be angled to reference the Prime Meridian line at London’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich, with the pavilion’s exterior walls aligned to the Serpentine Gallery’s eastern façade, while the interior courtyard will align to the north. The walls themselves resemble celosias, a traditional Mexican breeze wall that allows air to pass through, and will be built from dark cement roof tiles, interplaying the light streaming in against the color of the pavilion itself. A curved overhead canopy, clad in mirrored tiles, will dialogue with a triangular reflecting pool below, which will be sunk into the pavilion’s north end. As the sun moves across the sky throughout the summer, visitors will be able to track the shifting of the shadows within and the sunlight’s refraction, as each day should theoretically bring a unique lighting condition. “The design for the Serpentine Pavilion 2018 is a meeting of material and historical inspirations inseparable from the city of London itself and an idea which has been central to our practice from the beginning: the expression of time in architecture through inventive use of everyday materials and simple forms,” said Escodebo in a statement. “For the Serpentine Pavilion, we have added the materials of light and shadow, reflection and refraction, turning the building into a timepiece that charts the passage of the day.” The temporary Serpentine Pavilion has been commissioned by London’s prestigious Serpentine gallery since 2000, and has drawn big names in architecture since its conception. This year, the pavilion will be open to the public from June 15, 2018 through October 7, 2018, and will continue to host Park Nights, the Serpentine Gallery’s experimental and interdisciplinary showings on select Friday nights. Escodebo, born in 1979, has made a name for herself lately in the exhibition and temporary architecture world, having shown work at both the 2012 and 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. For the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, Escobedo built an interactive, round rocking stage.
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Frank Gehry might design Facebook’s new London headquarters

Since 2017, Facebook has stated its intention to establish a new British headquarters within the ongoing redevelopment of King’s Cross Central in London. The London Times speculates that architect Frank Gehry is currently in talks with the social media giant to fit out two adjoining buildings, currently designated T2 and T3, as well as a stand-alone building on a separate plot. The buildings T2 and T3 are designed by the British firm Bennetts Associates and are slated for completion in early 2019. In total, Facebook looks to add three buildings totaling more than 700,000 square feet to its London footprint. According to the Architects’ Journal, Gehry has designed numerous buildings for Facebook in the past, including its campus in Menlo Park and a ‘fit-out’ of Rathbone Square. The larger development surrounding Facebook's potential new headquarters, King’s Cross Central, is a 67-acre mixed-use redevelopment site encompassing fifty new buildings, 1,900 homes, twenty new streets, and twenty-six acres of public space. British developer Argent is leading the project and the master planners are Allies & Morrison and Porphyrios Associates. The transformation of King’s Cross from decrepit industrial district to emerging tech hub is influenced by its proximity to King’s Cross Station and St. Pancras International. These stations provide unrivaled rail transport access to international, regional and local transport networks. According to the Urban Land Institute, over 63 million passengers will pass through King’s Cross–St. Pancras by 2022, and approximately 45,000 Londoners will directly live or work in the district. Facebook is not the only tech giant shifting personnel to King’s Cross Central. In 2017, Google submitted plans for a nearly one million square foot headquarters in the sprawling redevelopment site. Designed by BIG and Heatherwick Studios, the 11-story building will extend horizontally approximately one thousand feet, a distance roughly on par with the height of London’s tallest building, the Shard.
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James Stirling’s No. 1 Poultry will soon have a mini golf range

Some may say it is par for the course for postmodern architecture to be allied with gimmicks and today, it seems those who do have cause for delight: James Stirling's No.1 Poultry in London looks set for a mini golf complex on its ground floor.
The endeavor is courtesy of Puttshack, a firm which claims to be the first "super tech" indoor mini golf experience provider. Plans for what the mini golf trials will be can only be seen in the sketches provided, however, Pomo putters can still dream of a course based on the site plan of Aldo Rossi's San Cataldo Cemetery (which would be amazing, let's be honest) or a homage to Michael Graves' Steigenberger Golf Resort in Egypt.
Puttshack's complex appears to come with an island bar and tables for dining and will ultimately be an after-work venue for those in the city. As for the real clubbing going on, Puttshack ensures there will be no fowl play when going for a Poultry birdie—its ball tracking and scoring technology uses a mini-computer inside the golf ball to monitor and share video highlights from each round.
"I’ve always wanted to locate a social entertainment concept in the heart of the city, and there could not be a better location than the symbolic No 1 Poultry address," said Adam Breeden, founder and CEO of Bounce, one of the companies behind Puttshack in a press release. "The area has been up and coming for a long time now and with the introduction of Puttshack it finally establishes itself as a truly varied and vibrant London destination," he added.
Built in 1998, Stirling's iconic work was the first postmodern building in the U.K. to be landmarked and, it was the country's youngest landmark, as well. Residing above Puttshack will be the new WeWork offices, which are slated for completion this March. Those renovations will also refurbish the building's famed staircase.
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Zaha Hadid Architects faces criticism over newly revealed London skyscrapers

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is facing community backlash over recently unveiled plans to bring a double-pronged, mixed-use tower to Vauxhall, South London. As reported by the Architect’s Journal, the building was submitted for local council approval in December, but has caught the public’s ire over the 53-story and 42-story towers that would rise right on the bank of the River Thames. Linked by an 11-story base, the Vauxhall scheme would hold 257 apartments and 618 hotel rooms across the two towers, as well as seven floors of office space in the base and retail at the ground level. Both the towers and the base will feature a glass curtain wall overlain with a unifying exoskeleton-like façade that stretches and decompresses as the building rises, exposing uninterrupted glass near the top. It would also become the tallest building in the emerging Vauxhall area, with the taller tower potentially topping out at about 607 feet. It would be ZHA’s first major mixed-use residential building in the United Kingdom, and the studio sees it as a “breakthrough project,” according to the Architect’s Journal. Local critics see the development as a “two-fingered salute.” The site had previously won permission for a pair of 41- and 31-story towers designed by London’s Squire & Partners, and residents, as well as non-profit groups, are gearing up to contest the development. “Although these buildings are better ­designed than the Squires ones, this application is attempting to add more height by stealth,” architect Barbara Weiss told the Architect’s Journal. ‘The River Thames is becoming a canyon and the price to the skyline of Boris Johnson’s liberal approach to tall buildings is becoming increasingly clear.” Other than the project’s height, advocates are also outraged over the lack of specific affordable housing promises, the decrease in residential units from the prior Squires plan, and the projected traffic congestion the project would cause. Compounding the controversy is that the ZHA towers would rise next to the iconic Vauxhall bus station, which was designed by ARUP in 2005 and now faces demolition only 13 years later. ZHA has for their part, pushed back against the controversy and claimed that fears of congestion or shadows were without merit. Jim Heverin, ZHA’s director, told the AJ that the studio was still in talks with the project’s developer over finalizing the number of affordable housing units. ‘When we came onto this scheme, it was right that we looked at the heights,’ said Heverin. “We evolved the scheme to create a new public square. Our scheme takes less land on the ground but is higher. There is a lot more density coming into this area. Our project fits within a master plan that has been looked at by Transport for London.” The soaring Vauxhall towers plan would seem to fit well with ZHA head Patrick Schumacher’s fondness for density and what the Guardian has called a propensity for “neoliberal privatization schemes.”
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Architectural Association fires nine staff members

The fate of the 16 Architectural Association (AA) staff members who were warned that their jobs were at risk in November has finally come to light. As reported by The Architect’s Journal, nine of the 16 were deemed “redundant” by the AA, and AA Files editor Tom Weaver has resigned. The cuts come as the London-based school has been roiled by financial issues. Samantha Hardingham, the AA’s interim director, told The Architect’s Journal that the reorganization was a response to a “massive” increase in rent and rates and the costs of an ongoing renovation of the school’s headquarters in Bedford Square. The school’s reorganization hasn’t been without pushback, as architects and critics from all over the world have expressed concern over the staff reductions and possible closing of the AA Files. Five of the eight positions at the AA’s publication department, responsible for producing the AA Files, have been slashed, and there are only two full-time staff members left there following Weaver’s departure. Despite the changes in recent years at the AA, the AA Files under Weaver has consistently been praised as the journal’s “golden years”. ‘The AA Files was one of the best things about the last 10 years at the association,” said Irenee Scalbert, a former AA professor and current member of the AA Files editorial board. “It found a good editor who is a big loss. To have a magazine is one thing; to have a good one with a capable editor is another. It was a sophisticated publication that gave evidence that the AA was good at architecture.” Hardingham has repeatedly stressed that the cuts are part of a larger reorganization process that will guarantee the school’s continued financial solvency. In addition to focusing more heavily on development, the school will also attempt to receive taught degree-awarding powers, which would allow them to award bachelor’s degrees. Two of the 16 aforementioned threatened staff members have been reassigned to different departments within the AA, while the remaining four have remained at their current positions.
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Architect Neave Brown, champion of social housing, passes away at 88

Neave Brown, English architect and outspoken proponent of low-rise, high-density public housing, has died at age 88 on January 9th. A New York native, Brown left permanently for London to study at the Architectural Association in the mid-1950’s. Known for his work in concrete, Brown’s open, stepped post-war developments demonstrated that high-quality, mass public housing was possible on the scale of London’s existing Victorian row houses. Brown is the only architect to have all of his UK projects listed, a protected status in which a building may not be demolished, expanded, or altered without express permission from the local planning authority. These projects include Dartmouth Park, the Dunboyne Road Estate, and the Alexandra Road Estate, the 1968 brutalist housing complex for which he is perhaps best known. Despite retiring in 2002, Brown’s work has continued to be recognized. Only two months ago, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded Brown the 2018 Royal Gold Medal, acknowledging his lifetime of achievement in architecture. Advocating for a “social housing” model that emphasized communal living and fostering interaction between neighbors, Brown was vocally opposed to high-rise public estates. With the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and demolition of Robin Hood Gardens fresh in the public’s mind, Brown had been scheduled to host a debate on social housing in February later this year.
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Steven Holl’s ethereal Maggie’s Centre truly embraces its surroundings

After an arduous journey, Steven Holl's Maggie's Centre is finally open. The new $10 million London care center, as with all Maggie’s Centres, will offer free emotional and practical support to cancer patients. This particular center, however, was marred by controversy—not something you would expect from a building designed to help sick people. The center is the latest for Maggie's, the charity founded by Charles Jencks in 1995 after his wife, Maggie Keswick Jencks, died of cancer. The couple believed in the uplifting power of architecture and have since installed more than 20 centers across the world, the majority of which are in the U.K. Nestled into a neoclassical enclave on the grounds of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in central London, Holl's Maggie's Center very nearly never happened. For his design to be built, a rudimentary brick building from the 1960s had to come down. But that wasn’t the issue. Instead, the project’s adversaries argued that the new center didn’t connect with its surroundings. This is nothing new with Maggie’s Centers across the U.K., even though Jencks has previously enlisted architecture’s A-list to design the structures, which are independent from nearby hospitals. Jencks has tapped Norman FosterFrank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas, and soon Daniel Libeskind, with a center in Hampstead. A page from Charles Jencks’ The Architecture of Hope: Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres shows the site plan of all centers (before Holl’s was built). Here we can see green cytoplasm shrouding the Maggie’s Center nuclei; almost all the centers are one story and are surrounded by a protective grass lawn. On such a tight site, there was no room for greenery, on the ground level at least. The first Maggie’s Center to reach three stories, Holl’s design incorporates a roof garden overlooking a centuries-old quadrangle that includes the 1740s church of St. Bartholomew-the-Less. In a recent lecture at the World Architecture Festival, British architect and planner Sir Terry Farrell referenced Frank Gehry’s center in Dundee, Scotland (full disclosure: I work in communications at Farrell's firm). He argued that the building exacerbated the dichotomy between the brilliantly designed and the under-designed. Who wouldn’t want a pristine lawn to protect from the encroaching drab contemporary hospital vernacular? At St. Bartholemew’s, which is Europe's oldest hospital, such banal healthcare architecture cannot be found. Despite this, Holl's Maggie’s Center is at peace with its neighbors. After calls for modifications, the center shares a basement, toilets, and elevators with the adjacent 18th century Great Hall, a landmarked work of architect James Gibbs. Even these changes were nearly not enough. Holl's design scraped through the second round of planning by one vote and even after that, a lawsuit was filed against the planners. "I flew in from New York and they gave me three minutes in a courtroom. That was it!" Holl recalled, laughing. Wrapping the building is a facade that at night reveals the squares of color embedded, offering a hazy glow. During the day, this color palette is significantly muted and the glass skin is more of a misty gray. Outside, visitors can also see a rounded corner design, which is mirrored inside by a bamboo staircase that traces the perimeter as it winds upward. Holl calls this the “basket” and a “vessel within a vessel within a vessel,” a reference to the concrete structural shell that lies between the glass and bamboo. No attempt has been made to hide this structure, and the result is a pleasing display of both tectonics and tactile design in harmony. According to the Holl, the glass is a new invention. Comprising two layers of insulation, the embedded color film channels light out at night and blurs it during the day. The colored squares are also a reference to Medieval music's "neume notation." “It couldn’t be glossy!” exclaimed Holl. “There are too many glass buildings today.” The architect continued: "Jencks thinks I'm a postmodernist, however, this building is for architecture a manifesto for the expression of materials; [it stands] against everything pomo was." “In my 40 years of practice, this is one of my favorite buildings I’ve ever done,” Holl said.
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Gingerbread City draws Zaha Hadid, Foster + Partners and more to London for the holidays

Nearly 50 well known architecture, engineering, and landscape architecture firms have teamed up to bring a massive edible exhibition to life, as London’s Museum of Architecture hosts its annual Gingerbread City show. Master planned and sponsored by Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, the utopian cookie metropolis is built to 1:100 scale and comprised of four neighborhoods. Old Town, which has twisting, narrow streets and is centered around Crumble Square, an industrialized New Town with a Central Baking District, a waterside energy district, and “eco-town”. The vastly differing styles of each neighborhood allowed the museum to feature every architectural typology, while designers were free to experiment in every style. Participants were asked to design for one of four categories, housing, landscapes, landmark buildings, or bridges, but with the caveat that they had to bake and decorate the gingerbread themselves. Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, NBBJ, Periscope, Pitman Tozer, Burwell Deakins and dozens of other studios have all contributed to the Gingerbread City, including several bridges which link the distinct districts together. Zaha Hadid Architects and Foster + Partners were each given entire inidvidual islands in the eco-town to decorate as they wished. Because gingerbread is a finicky material to build with, firms had to find ways to keep their buildings structurally sound, while still being edible. Sugar glass, gumdrops, frosting and melted candy were all turned into supporting elements. But even the most intelligently designed cookie building is vulnerable to the elements. Speaking with CNN, museum director Melissa Woolford said that humidity inside the museum wreaked havoc on last year’s display, and that several buildings had collapsed in 2016’s show. Gingerbread City will be on display at the Museum of Architecture until this Friday, December 22nd.
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Report slams British regulatory system overseeing Grenfell

Since the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, the United Kingdom is attempting to come to terms with a ubiquitous feature of its urban landscape, the council-owned tower block. Built in 1974, the Grenfell Tower had recently-installed cladding meant to insulate the decades-old structure. Instead, the renovation served as an accelerant, leaping over the concrete floor plates that should effectively seal potential fires. The severity of the conflagration within a council-owned tower housing some of society’s most vulnerable raises the question of whether the British regulatory environment and construction industry facilitated such a tragedy. The Guardian reports that the ‘Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety,’ has lodged a searing indictment of Britain’s construction industry and governmental regulation of high-rises. Authored by Dame Judith Hackitt, the report describes the practices that led to the Grenfell Tower fire as being caused by a “mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility,” and the use of third-party inspections that are “open to abuse given the potential conflicts of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors.” In short, the regulatory organs tasked with insuring building safety are increasingly in collusion with the property interests they are meant to police. With more than a million people living in council-owned tower blocks, the review of British building practices and the regulation of high-density developments is imperative. As noted by The Guardian, Hackitt described the “whole system of regulation” as “not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.” Although Hackitt’s report does not provide a specific framework to address the safeguarding of the country’s council-owned tower blocks, she emphasizes the need for greater clarity within regulatory guidance documents, increased scrutiny of inspectors and developers, as well as an examination of sprinklers, escape routs, cladding and alarm systems.
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New U.S. Embassy in London fails to face its neighbors

Marking its first project on U.K. shores, KieranTimberlake Architects’ U.S. Embassy in South London is finally complete. The Philadelphia firm was the winner of a competition launched by the American Embassy in London in 2008. Now the Embassy’s new location in Nine Elms, just off the banks of the River Thames, will open a decade later this January. An official opening date is still pending, as the status of President Donald Trump’s inaugural state visit hangs in the balance due to a concern about widespread protests. Indeed, worries about security dominate the current U.S. Embassy in London, particularly after spate of attacks on other American consulates. Nestled in a Georgian enclave in Mayfair, the current Embassy, Eero Saarinen’s Grade II Listed structure from the 1950s, is unceremoniously fenced off. Despite a crowning aluminum bald eagle, the wealth of bollards that precede the fencing means the embassy's current locale is decidedly lacking in freedom. After surveying 40 possible locations, the U.S Embassy is moving to an even safer compound, one it can truly control. The architects didn’t have a say in curtailing this aspect; a prescribed 100-foot “seclusion zone” meant the embassy’s relationship to the site was never going to be an open one. However, some efforts have been made to make the notion of security less explicit. A bioswale in the form of a semi-circular pond (essentially half a moat), fortified hedges, and a gabion wall have all been sunk below ground level to make the embassy seem less stand-offish from afar. From this distance, KieranTimberlake’s work stands out as a crystalline cube from its brick-clad neighbors. On three sides of the 213-foot-tall structure are ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) sails which act as a shading device. James Timberlake, a partner at the architecture firm, stressed the need to “filter all that enters,” listing “people, air, and even materials.” Birds too are kept out through star-spangled fritting found on the northern-facing façade, the only side free from the ETFE sails. But if the outside dazzles, which it almost does at night, the embassy's interiors are severely lacking. For those who can’t get or see in, you’re not missing out. Although Ambassador Woody Johnson pushed the idea that his embassy’s architecture was “outward-looking,” evidence of this is hard to come by. Inside, it becomes apparent that the sails block fantastic views out onto the river from the east and west sides of the building. As if a brief which stipulated such high levels of security wasn’t enough to strangle the life out of the building, striving for LEED Platinum status through the enormous shading sails has shot the architects in the foot. Perhaps because it is now on Brexit-bound soil, there is further evidence of insularity at a granular scale as well. The embassy, to the annoyance of at least one employee, is filled only with U.S. plug sockets "bar a few Brit outlets.” Besides a serene visa waiting hall and the ground floor lobbies, one of which features work from British artist Rachel Whiteread, the other Gensler-designed interior levels shown to journalists are remarkably boring. Interior gardens and garden balconies offer a sorry attempt at adding American charm. Their inclusion results in the embassy feeling more like a high-security Holiday Inn. This anodyne, ultra-safe approach seems to have leaked into the building's surroundings as well. A nauseatingly large amount of generic apartment blocks surrounds the embassy. They fall under the umbrella of “New London Vernacular,” a term that arose during Boris Johnson's mayoralty to encourage historically sensitive design.  Though most of the area is still under construction, what's built so far already hints at the non-place that the $20-billion Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (VNEB), of which the embassy is a part, is set to become. In this bland context, the consulate’s isolationism as expressed in its distinctive facade may, in fact, be its best quality. One thing the embassy wasn’t fearful of though, was spending big. At $1 billion, it is the most expensive embassy in the world. You have to wonder, where did all that money go?