More than a Fortress

The Most Expensive U. S. Embassy Ever Tries to be Both Secure and Beautiful

 
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“It's … unlike any American embassy building in the world.”

—James Timberlake, architect, to the RIBA Journal

PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. EMBASSY & CONSULATES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

The new U.S. embassy in London, England aims to be two things that are usually mutually exclusive: heavily fortified and attractive.

The US$1 billion project, the most expensive U.S. embassy ever built, delivers all the not-necessarily-appealing security requirements. It's equipped with blast-resistant glass windows, is set back 100 feet (33 meters) from the street and has anti-ram barriers. But security is also achieved through aesthetic means: A large pond and low garden walls create discreet barriers.

“It attempts, against the odds, to create humane public spaces, in a context that's highly private,” architect James Timberlake of the firm Kieran Timberlake, which won a design competition for the embassy in 2010, told the RIBA Journal in 2014.

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Security features include a large pond and garden walls.

The project set the stage for a U.S. government program launched in 2011 to make embassies more inviting in the post-9/11 attack era. Renowned architects have been hired to construct visually appealing embassies in cities including Beirut, Lebanon and Maputo, Mozambique. A government report found that these new buildings often have higher upfront costs and longer schedules. But defenders of recent projects point out that the older style of U.S. facilities lacked necessary security, were overcrowded and neglected public stakeholders.

PROJECT:

New U.S. embassy

LOCATION:

London, England

SLATED TO OPEN:

by 2018

BUDGET:

US$1 billion

NAME OF U.S. GOVERNMENT PROGRAM TO IMPROVE EMBASSY DESIGNS:

Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities

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