US Embassy in London / KieranTimberlake Architects

View from Consular Plaza
View from Consular plaza (rendering by Studio amd)

KieranTimberlake has been announced as the winner of the design competition for the new US Embassy in .

According to a statement by the US Embassador in the UK, KieranTimberlake´s design “meets the goal of creating a modern, welcoming, timeless, safe and energy efficient embassy for the 21st century.”

Regarding the “safety” issues, KT’s design shows an interesting solution away from embassies from the early 90s surrounded by large walls with no urban considerations, using a park with a pond instead. The Embassy is no only an icon, but an urban piece “honoring the English tradition of urban parks and gardens as the context for many civic buildings”, connecting the Thames embankment to the new pedestrian way to the south.

view from Embassy park (rendering by Studio amd)

“Viewed from the north at the proposed plaza, the embassy grounds will provide the prospect of an open park, a landscape of grasses rising gracefully to the new embassy colonnade, with the required secure boundaries incised into the hillside and out of view. Instead of a perimeter-walled precinct, the site to the north and south is a welcoming urban amenity, a park for the city that fuses the new embassy to the city of London. Alternatives to perimeter walls and fences are achieved through landscape design.”

The pure geometry of the cube is fragmented by a highly specialized ETFE (ethylene-tetrafluroethylene, used in several recent buildings) facade optimized to shade interiors from east, west and south sun while admitting daylight and framing large open view portals to the outside. If you take a closer look to the renderings from the inside you will notice that the ETFE foils include thin photovoltaic film that intercepts unwanted solar gain in certain angles. The scrim also renders the largely transparent façades visible to migratory birds to discourage bird-strikes.

More information and renderings about the Embassy after the break. I also recommend to read our interview with Stephan Kieran.

Urban Park

• 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. The new embassy, with its gardens, will establish a strong framework for the urbanization of the Nine Elms redevelopment zone.

• There are two major east-west pedestrian and vehicular paths, one existing and one to be improved, and the other proposed as part of the enabling infrastructure for the Nine Elms development. The existing infrastructure is along the south Thames embankment and is composed of a river walk paralleled by Nine Elms Lane. The proposed new infrastructure to the south of the embassy site is a pedestrian greenway that will connect the embassy site to Vauxhall Station, the nearest tube stop to the east, and on to the proposed new Battersea developments to the west. Poised strategically midway between these parallel paths, the embassy becomes part of an urban park that connects the Thames embankment to the new pedestrian way to the south.

• The paving about and within the embassy site utilizes the familiar limestone used in many London walks and parks. London Plane trees provide shade and form at the perimeter and along Nine Elms Lane as well as the proposed new walk to the south that connects the site to Vauxhall Station.

• Seen from the north along the Thames embankment and Nine Elms Lane, the new Embassy Park contains a pond with walks, places to sit and landscape along its edges, all open to the citizens of London.

• Trees near the pond are to be North American species, such as the Weeping Willow and the Bald Cypress. Others, while native to North America, were long ago brought to England and are now common to the English landscape.

• Viewed from the north at the proposed plaza, the embassy grounds will provide the prospect of an open park, a landscape of grasses rising gracefully to the new embassy colonnade, with the required secure boundaries incised into the hillside and out of view. Instead of a perimeter-walled precinct, the site to the north and south is a welcoming urban amenity, a park for the city that fuses the new embassy to the city of London. Alternatives to perimeter walls and fences are achieved through landscape design.

• The spiraling form of the landscape is expressed through grading, walks and plantings in a way that simultaneously opens out to the city beyond and spirals inward as it envelops and then moves up into and through the embassy building. As a choice of form, the spiraling garden is meaningful as it represents connections of site to landscape to building.

• The connections to the surrounding urban context, both existing and proposed, begin in an open geometry well beyond the site at the Thames embankments and the proposed Vauxhall-to-Battersea pedestrian way.

Main Lobby (rendering by Studio amd)

• The walks and landscape forms begin their inward spiral at the outer boundaries of the site. They sweep past the pond to the entry court that opens to the Main Lobby for staff and their guests. At the opposite side of the Main Lobby, the Gallery spirals down to the north culminating in the large Multi-Purpose Hall that merges with the grade of the spiraling Consular Walk above.

• At the main entry, the site spiral continues beyond to the great arc of the Consular Garden, carrying the visitor up the Consular Walk and into the Consular Lobby and promenade overlooking the pond and the Thames embankment to the north.

• The visitor continues this spiral within the embassy, revolving about the core and up to the consular floor above, pausing along the way to overlook the Main Lobby, a significant moment where the necessarily separate worlds of the embassy – consular visitors and staff – visually intersect.

The Chancery

View from east (rendering by Studio amd)

• 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.

• As a pure geometry, the cubic form is an ancient signifier of solidity, strength and permanence, all qualities of our democracy.

• Its surface is given form through the interface between a faceted external solar shading and collection system and the blast resistant glazing.

View to exterior from cafeteria
Cafeteria (rendering by Studio amd)

• 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.

• A four-sided colonnade forms the base of the building. Through both custom and the openness and accessibility of its sheltering form, colonnades have long evoked the architecture of democracy.

The Diplomacy of Art

• Luminous ‘light art’ wraps the core wall in a prominent location behind the colonnade.

• At the Main and Consular Lobbies the art inside is visible through glazing from the main entry court and the pond. To the south and southwest are external art walls. As it unfolds about the central core, the art can be experienced both within the major public spaces and from the outside as part of the continuum of spiraling walks and landscape form.

• In the Main Lobby, the art wall stops at the center to inflect toward a stone wall in which the names of prior ambassadors to the Court of St. James are inscribed.


View from Nine Elms Lane (rendering by Studio amd)

• Rather than employing a plinth to accommodate the large programs located at the lowest levels of the building, the colonnade sits atop a gently rising earthen mound. Within this landscape form are parking garage ramps and basement service and mechanical areas to the south, and the lower level of the Gallery and Multi-Purpose Meeting Space to the north and west.

• Instead of fragmenting the embassy into a plinth and tower, this strategy transforms the large footprints of the lower levels along with the entrance pavilions into earthen landscape form to enhance the prominence of the embassy colonnade and transparent building.

• The visual presence of the whole is that of a beacon that is a respectful icon representing the strength of the U.S.-U.K. relationship.

• In the form and expression of the New London Embassy, KieranTimberlake seeks a holistic fusion of urbanism with site, of building and landscape.

• KieranTimberlake seeks a new embassy that is both evocative and that performs, one that represents our democracy and our relationship with the United Kingdom and at the same time conserves and produces energy.

• All elements are purposeful in multiple ways: from image and expression to the environment and urbanism, to the productivity and comfort of the users. The architects at KieranTimberlake do not believe these objectives can be segregated. They must work together, holistically providing new synergies that make the form of the new embassy resonate deeply.


Architects: KieranTimberlake Architect
Landscape Architect: Olin
Sustainability, MEP/FP and Civil Engineering: ARUP
Structural and Blast Engineering: Weidlinger Associates
Workplace design: Gensler
Cost Consulting: Davis Langdon
Technical Security: Sako & Associates

Renderings: Studio amd

Cite: Basulto, David. "US Embassy in London / KieranTimberlake Architects" 24 Feb 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • fokt

    castle + moat

  • Lil Jimmy

    Maybe they should stick to schools….offta!

  • jdcarling

    the repeated pattern embassy move…


    I still kinda like it….~

  • CA

    (On Cube)
    Cube form = solidity, strength, permanence? Why then carve out a corner with a garden without continuing the solid corner edge? Doesn’t purity of a cubic form usually depend on its smooth, tout surface quality? Description itself contains something about fragmentation of the cubic form by ETFE foils. It seems like a contradiction especially when the wavy ceiling profile extends out to the garden void. Hopefully, ETFE will float and cubic form will exert itself and all that the architects wanted it to signify. I am skeptical about this Will Bruder trick although I want K/T to pull it off nicely and end up with a beautiful building.

    (On surface to volume ratio)
    “It represents the optimum ratio of maximum volume within minimum perimeter…”
    Isn’t this supposed to be a sphere not a cube?

    Proportionally, height of the lobby seems really awkward with the cube. K/T usually gets this right but this one seems a little uneasy.

    I don’t mind that K/T was selected as they do good work and as the other entries were more poorly developed. Also, what’s going on with the Richard Meier scheme? Or is it Michael Palladino or some other junior designer? It somehow doesn’t seem to have the kind of rigor that we associate with Richard Meier. Cobb Freed & Partners is doing a lot of mediocre work these days. It lost an edge after Pei retired. Why are they trying to be like Foster’s with a diagrid? K/T’s submission was the best among the four, obviously. It’s about time that they get an important commission.


  • Jean-f

    it’s a fortresses, not even in disguise!

  • bergerac

    Cube in a pond: Could this be a new design classic?

  • Diefenbagen
  • Juni

    80′s Architecture.

  • threads
  • hyon

    I would like to know why my last comment got censored.

  • Samuel

    Glass facades do not make a welcoming environment.

    The Castle Theme is very pertinant.

  • jrhartley

    Kieran Timberlake? More like Justin Timberlake.

  • RQH

    Sometimes I think peoples’ comments on this forum are too harsh. But not in this case. It’s a yawn!

  • squidly

    It gives the appearance of transparency but in reality is almost completely inaccessible; appearing to be a park but in reality a barrier; appearing to be one thing and existing as another. What more perfect analogy to America? The country that wants to appear as a beacon of freedom is responsible for more repression around the world than any other the last 60 years. The poor architects just want to make a pretty and clever building..

  • hyon

    I am still not done with this paradigm of the status quo. It would been more honest to graft in the Word War II Memorial all the way from Washington and stick it on the River. All hail the Fatherland.

  • threads

    the pokey notch on the upper outside corner is “TOO EASY” however the hairy facade is fantastic.

  • Jim

    I think Nicolai Ouroussoff’s review in the NYTimes pretty much covers it.

  • jp

    its a real shame the morphosis proposal didn’t win and this cube did.

  • London Architects

    I came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  • Tim Firth

    Medieval keep surrounded by moat and wall.