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?
Posts tagged with "U.S. Embassy":
Three years after an unsuccessful bid for a chance to design the U.S. Embassy in London, Morphosis Architects has won a different Department of State project: a new Embassy for Beirut, Lebanon. The firm was selected from a shortlist that also included Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Mack Scogin Merrill Elam/AECOM. The new Embassy will be located near the current facilities in Awkar, roughly seven miles from Beirut. The Embassy moved away from the capital in 1983, following a suicide bomb attack that killed 49 Embassy staff. A second bombing in 1984 killed 11. Restrictions on American travel to Lebanon were not lifted until 1997, seven years after the official end of the Lebanese civil war. U.S. Department of State spokesperson Christine Foushee said that while the history of the Embassy in Beirut is unique, the security requirements of the new building will not differ significantly from other Embassy projects. Every major project built by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) must meet certain security standards in order to qualify for funding from Congress, she explained. The OBO put out a public call for submissions as part of its Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities initiative. “All of the designers that were short-listed, we feel, are very capable of incorporating [security] requirements,” Foushee said. “The real challenge, and the place where we were looking for innovation and creativity, was ensuring that the security requirements were met, but were integrated seamlessly into the design.” After seeing Morphosis’s proposal, the selection committee was confident that the firm would design a secure Embassy that “doesn’t look like a fortress,” she explained. The firm’s commitment to sustainability also impressed the OBO committee. According to Foushee, sustainable design, including planning for storm water and waste water management, is especially important in a project, like the new Embassy, that includes a housing component. Morphosis furthermore demonstrated an understanding of the OBO’s need for flexible interiors. “We have a need for sometimes accommodating a quick surge in staff,” Foushee said. An adaptable design will allow the Embassy to provide housing and office space for extra employees without additional construction. Finally, the design selection committee appreciated Morphosis’ experience working with technologies including 3D modeling. Integrating technology into the design process “is important for controlling costs, but also ensuring the quality of the project,” Foushee said. The design contract for the Beirut Embassy will be awarded during FY 2014, either before the new year or at the start of the 2014 calendar year, Foushee said. The construction contract will be awarded during FY 2016.
The State Department’s overseas embassies are getting a facelift. Under the "Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Worldwide Major Rehabilitation/Renovation Architecture/Engineering Design Services solicitation," a team of designers will overhaul overseas facilities. The Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations announced Monday that five design teams would undertake the major governmental project: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects, BNIM Architects, Krueck & Sexton Architects, Weiss/Manfredi Architects, and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca. More than 270 diplomatic missions (embassies, consulates and other facilities) fly the U.S. flag. Since 1999 OBO has completed 89 new structures, with 43 more in design and construction.
The State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (OBO) released new renderings by KieranTimberlake of the United States Embassy to be located near London's Vauxhall neighborhood. The project has acted as something of a petri dish for the development of OBO's Design Excellence program, which was modeled on a similar program at the much-beleaguered GSA. The London project has been watch closely by federally commissioned architects who must comply with design requirements that combine energy efficiency, sustainably, intense security, and high design. "They continue to use this project as a test case for sorting that stuff out and to continue to achieve really high levels of refinement and design excellence," concurred James Timberlake. In a forerunner of efficient practices espoused by the policy, OBO sold their Saarinen-designed building in swanky Grosvenor Square, which in turn paid for the new building on the up-and-coming south side of the Thames. An OLIN-designed landscape incorporates anti-ram deterrents that the OBO guidelines officiously dub "Embassy Perimeter Improvement Concepts" or EPIC. "I wouldn’t call them barriers," said Timberlake, who noted that despite offset and security setback requirements, 40 percent of the compound remains accessible to pedestrian traffic. If anything, he said, many of the major refinements are through the building's engagement with landscape, including water management in ponds that collect runoff for irrigational reuse, as well as for security. Certain technological advancements have insured that the highly efficient envelope incorporating photovoltaic technology will indeed go forward largely as planned. The rooftops of three entrance pavilions will also hold photovoltaic panels. But it is the envelope that has gone through the most rigorous analysis. An open outer structure acts as an ETFE shading element with a fritted layer that includes photovoltaic patches measuring 6 by 12 inches. Cast struts holds the cable stayed system apart from the glass box, bowing slightly at the midsection, giving the building a slight protrusion, like a proud, swollen chest.
Engineering News Record brings us the news that the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince is one of the few major buildings to survive the January 12th earthquake with only minor damage. According to the report, the facility remained functional during and after the earthquake: the electricity stayed on, communications systems continued to function, and water and air kept operating. As a result the building has become an important center for relief efforts. The reason that the 134,000-square-foot structure escaped the general devastation seems to be that it was built recently in accordance with the International Building Code and the State Department's Overseas Building Operations requirements. The building was constructed between 2005 and 2008 as a design-build project by New York City-based Fluor Corp, was bolstered by reinforced concrete shear walls, and had mechanical and electrical systems built to withstand seismic events.