A preview of this new environment for diplomacy
The State Department envisioned a new embassy in London that would serve as the centrepiece of one of America’s longest-standing and most valued relationships. It also aspired to set a new paradigm in embassy design by representing the ideals of the American government – giving priority to transparency, openness, and equality, and drawing on the best of American architecture, engineering, technology, art and culture.
The challenge for the Embassy was to encompass these values, while also meeting specific functional requirements for security, diplomatic work, and environmental sustainability. The Nine Elms district, a South Bank industrial zone under intense redevelopment, is a unique setting for the new Embassy. With an estimated 1,000 daily visitors and 800 staff, the Embassy has established a strong framework for the urbanisation of Nine Elms. A civic plaza and park contribute to this revitalisation by connecting the Thames embankment and Nine Elms Lane to a new pedestrian greenway extending from Vauxhall Station to Battersea.
The Embassy stands at the centre of this burgeoning area of London, with a public park containing a pond, walkways, seating and landscape along its edges. Curving walkways continue into the interior of the building with gardens on each floor that extend the spiralling movement upward. The internal gardens evoke American landscapes, and provide alternative paths through the building and informal meeting and gathering spaces.
The form of the Embassy is a transparent crystalline cube set atop a monumental colonnade – a radiant beacon at the heart of Nine Elms. Its high-performance façade is made of laminated glazing and an outer envelope of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene, a transparent film shaped to minimise solar gain and glare, affording natural light throughout the interior and access to the site’s striking views.
Many features of the Embassy serve multiple purposes to balance requirements into a cohesive and compelling whole. Water, energy and materials are managed with integrated building systems that work together and enhance each other. For instance, the pond is both a landmark and a component of the site’s stormwater strategy, reducing the strain on municipal sewer systems while providing a source for landscape irrigation.
The design for the new Embassy represents a holistic function of urbanism, building and landscape. It is both evocative and performative, helping to define a new environment for diplomacy while mapping a passage toward a diplomacy for the environment.
Photo Credit: Richard Bryant/arcaidimages.com