Plans for the new U.S. Embassy in London, to be designed by Philadelphia-based firm KieranTimberlake, were revealed this week to mixed reactions from architecture critics, with many reviewers noting the concessions made in the design to environmental issues and safety concerns.
Jay Merrick, architecture correspondent at The Independent, finds the design lacking compared to others on the final list:
Is KieranTimberlake's design great architecture? Not on the evidence of the visuals, although in technical and operational terms it will probably be outstanding. It certainly wasn't the most intriguing design of the four on the final shortlist. Richard Meier's scheme had a great deal more distinction in terms of its coolly abstract form. And the offering from PEI Cobb Freed and Partners promised beautifully refined façades. These two schemes had a gravitas that KieranTimberlake's seems to lack.
Among American critics, Nicolai Ouroussoff from the The New York Times stands out as an especially scathing critic of the building.
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.
James S. Russell, US Architecture correspondent at Bloomberg considers the design compromised by practical concerns.
With so much attention devoted to the green features and security, the design does not coalesce into a persuasive statement about America. The beefy columns uneasily prop the cube's expression of technological prowess over the mound. The prettifying plantings, can't fully disguise the mound's purpose as a bunker.
Russell later goes on to consider the building in the light of Barack Obama's presidency.
Of course, it's difficult to create a compelling statement when America's place in the world is hotly contested at home and its international intentions are debated everywhere. America can't even create a coherent climate-change policy.
This ambivalent embassy perfectly sums up the extraordinarily difficult Obama moment.
Jonathan Glancey of The Guardian considers the construction of the building as a metaphor for American politics.
Cool, remote and superficially transparent, the winning design does reflect what we can divine of the US political process. Nominally open to all and yet, in practice, tightly controlled, the system of US government and its prevailing culture, aped bad-temperedly in Britain, does indeed inform the brief to KieranTimberlake and their response to it.
Finally, Christopher Hawthorne of the LA Times acknowledges Obama's link to the project may actually be rather tenuous, but argues convincingly that the symbolism of the building may be tied up in Obama's image forever.
Because this is the first major embassy design to emerge from Barack Obama's year-old administration, of course, it is tempting to see signs in the architecture of his own political priorities. As it turns out -- even though the embassy plans were first sketched out before Obama was sworn in, and the building won't be opened until he is out of office -- they are stamped all over the KieranTimberlake proposal.
Fans of the president may admire the embassy's forthrightness, its cosmopolitanism and its willingness to admit, and address, environmental and other problems. His critics may complain that the building, by taking such pains to be restrained, polite and energy-efficient, seems eager to apologize for the aggression or wastefulness of American culture.
What do you think of the embassy? PHOTOS COURTESY OF KIERANTIMBERLAKE