All images via Kieran Timberlake
Designing an American embassy is one of the toughest jobs in the architecture biz. They want it to look dignified, important and represent good American architecture, but it also must be secure and blast-resistant. After a limited competition among some serious competition like Morphosis, I.M.Pei and Richard Meier, the winner is a TreeHugger favorite, Kieran Timberlake. That means it will probably be pretty green as well.
They define the difficulty of the problem:
The expressive challenge is to give form to the core beliefs of our democracy - transparency, openness, and equality - and do so in a way that is both secure and welcoming. At the same time, the building must confront the environmental challenges all nations face with leading edge sustainable design.
It will sit in the middle of an open park with a spiralling form that makes it tough to get a vehicle close to the building;
The design places the embassy building at the center of the Nine Elms site and develops the surrounding area into an urban park. The new embassy meets all the required security standards while honoring the English tradition of urban parks and gardens as the context for many civic buildings.
Green and sustainable features include:
• Internal gardens continue vertically within the new embassy as the spiral continues upward about the core toward an ever more focused, secure and enclosed center atop the structure. These gardens provide places to meet and additional vertical circulation. The plantings for each garden are chosen for their capacity to thrive in specific orientations, for their representation of the diversity of the American landscape and for the appropriateness of each type to its use.
• The chancery is a transparent, crystalline cubic form atop a colonnade. The crystalline form is simultaneously efficient and evocative.
• It represents the optimum ratio of maximum volume within minimum perimeter with resulting cost and energy management benefits. Its precise dimensions have been selected to afford the optimum distance for visitors and occupants to daylight and view.
• Its surface is given form through the interface between a faceted external solar shading and collection system and the blast resistant glazing.
• This crystal-like ethylene-tetrafluroethylene (ETFE) scrim has been optimized to shade interiors from east, west and south sun while admitting daylight and framing large open view portals to the outside. Its pattern visually fragments the façade while it intercepts unwanted solar gain and transforms it into energy by means of thin film photovoltaics positioned in the ETFE foils. The design of this scrim works vertically, horizontally and diagonally to eliminate directionality from the building's massing. The scrim also renders the largely transparent façades visible to migratory birds to discourage bird-strikes.
• At each façade, an ETFE enclosed pressurized air pocket further insulates the glazing from thermal transfer.
• The top of the building is sheathed with a crystalline photovoltaic array on the entire roof, screening mechanical equipment from view. The total array of crystalline and thin-film photovoltaic on the building measures 8,300 square meters with a significant output of over 345,000 kWh of energy.
Jane Loeffler, author of the Architecture of Diplomacy, a history of embassy design, likes it; she tells the Washington Post:
"They really want to make this a positive statement and it looks like they are doing that," said Loeffler. "It is very fashion forward, but it's not just trendy; it has rationale and science behind it."
More at the Architects Website