After more than fifty years in the iconic London Chancery Building in Grosvenor Square, the US Embassy in London is moving to the south bank of the River Thames. The new cube-shaped Embassy, the most expensive in the world at $1 billion USD, has taken four years to complete and features a state-of-the-art architectural design, modern security measures, and environmentally friendly features. Last week, Robert “Woody” Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK (and owner of the New York Jets football team), invited the media to tour the 518,000-square foot, twelve story building at 33 Nine Elms Lane. Ambassador Johnson explained to the media that the newly built US Embassy “is a signal to the world that this special relationship [with the UK] that we have is stronger and is going to grow and get better.”
James Timberlake, one of the partners of the Philadelphia-based architecture firm that designed the building, called the distinctive cube shape “efficient and provocative” and said the Embassy is meant to be “a radiant beacon" and express “transparency, openness, equality" without the need to "filter all and everything and everyone who enter.” The Embassy’s design, which Martin Linton, a then-member of Parliament for the Borough of Battersea, likened to “a sugar cube," stands in contrast to other fortress-like US Embassies around the world, hidden behind blast walls.
Attached to the outside of the building are plastic scrims that convert sunlight into energy and prevent the building from overheating. The design features a combination of solar-powered and natural gas fueled heat with a biomass heating system that can even provide heat to the community. According to officials, the building is even capable of operating off the grid for a limited period of time. The new Embassy, fully paid for by the sale of properties in London, includes a pond, which some have called a moat, to keep unauthorized people out who try to enter. It also has recycled-water waterfalls and deep trenches. The Embassy features gardens on every floor inspired by different regions of the US as well as private booths for visa appointments, a pub, a gym, and a post office.
While no official date has been set, President Trump is expected to visit the new US Embassy next year. “We are looking forward to welcoming the president when he comes over here. I think he will be very impressed with this building and the people who occupy it,” Johnson told the media. Some British politicians, however, have pressured Prime Minister Theresa May to rescind her invitation to President Trump because of his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and tweets.
The Embassy is scheduled to open to the public on January 16, 2018. US passport and visa appointments will start at the new location on this date. Once opened, the building will host approximately 800 staff members and will attract about 1,000 visitors a day. Ambassador Johnson, for one, is excited about the change from the Grosvenor Square building, which will be turned into a luxury hotel. He said: “Little America is moving south of the river.”