Having outgrown its home in the Eero Saarinen-designed London Chancery Building, the Embassy of the United States in London is getting a new home. Nancy Lazarus sizes up the project, a transparent, crystalline cube now taking shape on London’s South Bank.
(Renderings courtesy of KieranTimberlake/Studio amd.)
“The U.S. government is taking their design seriously again,” said David Sprouls, president of the New York School of Interior Design. His proof? Under the State Department’s Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities program, the American government is commissioning noted architects and designers to build embassies and consulates worldwide. He spoke briefly at NYSID’s “Design Diplomacy” event last week, where plans for the new London embassy were previewed.
Currently 31 international projects are in the design or construction phase, and these facilities have evolved beyond the purpose-built or modern compounds of earlier U.S. embassies, according to Jerry Withers, project manager at the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations that manages the program. They’re part of the 2010 Embassy Design and Security Act, whose flexible design standards encourages more local influences and cultures.
“Showcasing and representing America well abroad while still being functional, sustainable and safe”: those are the tall tasks of the embassy design program, Withers said. One of the toughest design challenges is to convey U.S. openness since security requirements have tightened in the wake of overseas incidents.
The new U.S. embassy in London is the most high-profile project, and it began about six years ago, when Kieran Timberlake was awarded the architectural design after an international competition. November 2013 marked the groundbreaking and the opening is slated for 2017.