Philly Firm Selected To Build U.S. Embassy, But Critics Pan Design

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 24, 2010

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The good news for Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake is that it has won the competition to design the new American embassy in London.

The bad news? Its design is already being panned by the New York Times' architecture critic:

The proposed building — a bland glass cube clad in an overly elaborate, quiltlike scrim — is not inelegant by the standards of other recent American Embassies, but it has all the glamour of a corporate office block. It makes you wonder if the architects had somehow mistaken the critic Reyner Banham’s famous dismissal of the embassy’s 1960 predecessor on Grosvenor Square — “monumental in bulk, frilly in detail” — as something to strive for.

The project as a whole, however, 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.

It’s hard to think of a project, in fact, that more perfectly reflects the country’s current struggle to maintain a welcoming, democratic image while under the constant threat of attack.

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