Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kieran Timberlake to design new American embassy in London

Philadelphia-based firm KieranTimberlake has won the commission to design the new U.S. embassy in London, England. I put off talking about the new design but it seems to be a big topic of conversation around the world so I got curious about what was so controversial about it. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised because it will be the largest U.S. building in Western Europe and some other pretty famous architects were in the running to design it.

Perhaps the controversy over the building stems from the fact that it represents beliefs and attitudes about the United States, and the presence of the United States on foreign (albeit relatively friendly) soil. The new design resembles a floating cube to seem friendly and transparent but is not without detractors.

The Embassy design represents a shift in how we think about the role of U.S. government architecture, both at home and abroad. It suggests putting an emphasis on action instead of values, measurable behavior rather than symbolic gestures. The embassy design is an attempt to solve the problem of how to participate in a neighborhood without sacrificing bomb-proof levels of security.

The $1 billion structure is covered in a skin of EFTE, a type of durable plastic, and is a balance of formal (security), urban (appearance) and environmental (sustainability) concerns. Three sides of the building are coated in the polymer — the same flexible material used on the outside of the Water Cube swimming arena for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It’s intended to serve double-duty to shade the interior and anchor flexible solar panels.

Kieran Timberlake is a partnership of James Timberlake (left) and Stephen Kieran (right) in photo on left. The firm won the commission against a talented field of firms, all founded by Pritzker Prize-winning architects: Richard Meier & Partners Architects, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and Thom Mayne’s Morphosis.

The building will fill a five-acre site in a neighborhood called Nine Elms, across the river from its current home in Grosvenor Square, which was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1960. The State Department hopes to break ground on the new embassy in 2013 with a planned opening in 2017.

Click on the heading above to learn more about Kieran Timberlake's approach to design.

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