As many on this blog know, I am a fan of good architecture. My father was one of the proteges and students of Mies Van der Rohe and I was raised in the Chicago circle of architects. Thus, when I heard that we were building a new embassy in London, I was truly hopeful of a unique American contribution that celebrated the history and architecture of London. Yet, in what seems a long-simmering payback for Bunker Hill (and perhaps Benny Hill), the United States just dumped a $1 billion blemish on the landscape of London. Given Prince Charles’ long (and justified) complaint of “monstrous carbuncles,” we just added a new and giant carbuncle for our English cousins.
The new embassy will degrade the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth. It is the dubious work of Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake and covers 5.6 million square feet with 12-story crystalline cube. It is adjoined by a moat. Yes, a moat. While the architect is quick to note that the “pond” does not surround the building entirely and thus not a moat, the English has dubbed it the American moat. This appears an effort to protect the building from the incursion of a single element of taste. The result is a Borg-like fortress for London’s already ravaged skyline.
Hopefully, to reassure the Brits, we will add a sign reading:
“We are the United States. Lower your eyes and surrender. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”
U.S. Ambassador Ambassador Barzun proclaimed at the ground breaking this week that:
“ Today is for celebrating a new facet of the special relationship. The U.S. and the U.K. have long been partners in development across the globe. But today we celebrate a different kind of development — the continued development and evolution of London itself. We are proud to be putting down roots in Nine Elms. And we’re proud to provide an anchor for more businesses and jobs, bringing thousands of new neighbors to fuel economic revitalization here.”
The United States is a world leader in architecture. Yet, with $1 billion, we produced a building that looks like the corporate headquarters of a dot.com startup with the exterior elements of a 1970s Sears department store. We would have been better off with a giant Apple store.
Yes, this is certainly a “new facet” . . . just not a good one.