US Embassy in London
Along the banks of the Thames River in London’s Nine Elms section, the new U.S. Embassy emphasizes one of the United States’ longest-standing and highly valued relationships. The embassy, through its architecture, represents the country’s ideals of transparency, openness, and equality while highlighting the best of American design and engineering and fostering a strong sense of identity that melds with stringent security requirements.
Before the new embassy was commissioned, the U.S. Department of State explored strategies for renovating its existing Eero Saarinen-designed building on the city’s Grosvenor Square. Due to the building’s aged systems and infrastructure, a complete renovation, two staff moves, and a significant taxpayer investment would have been necessary. The assessment prompted a new plan to finance an embassy entirely from the sale of existing London real estate owned by the U.S. government.
Following an extensive search, a 4.9-acre brownfield site in Nine Elms was selected. The decision to locate the embassy there was a pivotal moment for the district’s transformation, and it has subsequently accelerated the development of nearby residential and commercial projects as well as infrastructure and public amenities.
The new LEED Platinum-certified embassy embodies the country’s relationship with the United Kingdom and the central tenets of democracy. The building itself is a transparent crystalline cube that sits atop a two-story colonnade, positioning it as a beacon at the heart of Nine Elms. Its form evokes the strength of both countries, and its high-performing facade speaks to transparency and light. The facade is composed of an inner envelope of laminated glazing and an outer envelope of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene that provides ample access to daylight and sweeping views of London. The facade’s geometry and materials work in concert as receptors for light, which dances across it in shifting patterns and colors throughout the day.
One of the team’s most pressing challenges was balancing sustainability with strict workplace and security demands. To address both of these needs, each design element is both performative and purposeful, solving a number of problems at one time through integrated building systems that enhance and support one another. A landscaped pond, for example, serves as both a public amenity and a critical component of the site’s stormwater management strategy.
In new and innovative ways, this project demonstrates a holistic fusion of urbanism, building, and landscape. Evocative and performative, the embassy represents a new benchmark for State Department design excellence and has ushered in a new era of embassy design and construction.