New York Times: "With Move Across London, U.S. Embassy Can’t Please Everyone"

by Joseph McKeown


 The new US Embassy in London under construction. (Photo  by US Embassy London used under Creative Commons .)

The new US Embassy in London under construction. (Photo by US Embassy London used under Creative Commons.)

The US Embassy in London is moving locations, and not everyone is happy about it. After years of criticism and protests by local residents against the current Embassy building in Grosvenor Square because of safety and security concerns—the protests included a hunger strike by a countess—the US Embassy is moving from its Modernist concrete building in beautiful, historic, and exclusive Mayfair, where the Embassy has been based since 1960, to a more protected and environmentally responsible building in the gritty district of Nine Elms on the South Bank of the Thames. While the move planned for 2017 is welcomed by local Mayfair residents who for years have feared terrorist attacks, the new location also has its own critics.

The new building was designed by Philadelphia firm KieranTimberlake to reflect "the core values of democracy—transparency, openness, and equality" and also to be "welcoming, secure, and highly sustainable." The design, however, has been called "boring," a "corporate office block," and "the Ice Cube." Former Guardian architecture critic Jonathan Glancey said that the proposed building is "remote and superficially transparent" and that it reflects "what we can divine of the US political process. Nominally open to all and yet, in practice, tightly controlled[.]"

Peter Rees, the City of London’s former head of planning, wrote in an email to the New York Times: “It seems sad that the U.S. Embassy is relocating from a beautiful historic square in Mayfair to a fortified bunker in former railyards on the far side of the river...It’s like moving from New York’s Upper East Side to New Jersey.”

Ambassador Robert Tuttle, who led the search for a new site, said on the London Embassy website: “We looked at all our options, including renovation of our current building on Grosvenor Square. In the end, we realized that the goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable Embassy could best be met by constructing a new facility.”

As the New York Times said when the original building design was chosen:

The project as a whole...is a fascinating study in how architecture can be used as a form of camouflage. The building is set in a spiraling pattern of two small meadows and a pond that have as much to do with defensive fortification as with pastoral serenity: an eye-opening expression of the irresolvable tensions involved in trying to design an emblem of American values when you know it may become the next terrorist target.

No word if Gould Pharmacy, which rents lockers for applicants who cannot bring their large electronic items into the Embassy, will also open a new location. It might be finally time to leave those large electronics at home.