New US Embassy design in Battersea - a fortress like the Tower of London ?

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The winning design concept for the new Embassy of the United States of America has been announced:

See The Daily Mail Revealed: The new $1billion high-security U.S. London embassy... complete with moat

The winning US architects Kieran Timberlake ISO give some more details about their "environmental" thinking behind the design on their blog: New U.S. Embassy in London


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.

No doubt there will be some demand for food and drink establishments in the surrounding area to serve the queues of tourists and businessmen planning to travel to the USA, who have to present themselves for intrusive visa application interviews and, fingerprinting etc.

Similarly the commercial lobbyists and the private military contractor / mercenary / security companies within walking distance of the current US Embassy in Grosvenor Square will probably also want some offices nearby.

The computer generated images and architects scale models of the winning design, and of its rivals, are all very well and good, but they bear no relation to the reality of the current run down site in Battersea, with low rise warehouses etc.

(via Microsoft Bing Maps Birds Eye Aerial View)


All of these architectural illustrations have the US Embassy surrounded on three sides by several, as yet non-existent, presumably office tower blocks

Surely it will be many years before the new US Embassy site at Nine Elms will be hemmed in by a Canary Wharf or even Croydon style collection of high rise office buildings, no matter what Wandsworth Council's vague "regeneration" plans are ?

What about all the extra road traffic congestion which such a collection of office blocks will create ?

It is all very well talking of an "Urban Park", but if this "green space" and "pedestrian piazzas" are within the official US Embassy site i.e. what will no longer be United Kingdom territory, then this will have a big effect on the policing of the sometimes large numbers of people who hold protests or demonstrations outside the current US Embassy in Mayfair.

Where exactly are peaceful protesters meant to congregate in this new US Embassy design ?


• 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.

• 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.



• 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.


There is another cube like white building by the River Thames, built by powerful foreigners, which dominated the dingy surrounding area, which was also built on landscaped earthworks forcing visitors into a more easily surveilled defensive spiral approach, and partially surrounded by both wet and dry moats:


William the Conqueror's White Tower the central Norman castle keep of the Tower of London


Even some architectural critics, like Hugh Pearman, who often writes for The Sunday Times, have noticed the similarities of this new US Embassy design with that of William the Conqueror's White Tower keep at the Tower of London:

The second Tower of London: Kieran Timberlake's design for the American Embassy in the UK capital.

It's as if Philadelphia-based Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake looked at the brief given to architects in the competition, and decided - OK, they want a fortress, we'll damn well give them a fortress. One that looks the part. One with a moat, and defensive embankments, and a clear line of sight for the archers, the lot. Oh, and it should be "white".


So Kieran Timberlake has produced a building with multivalent imagery, intentionally or not. There is much talk of openness and democracy and the strong relationship between the USA and the UK. Of course. But it remains a fortress, which is a building type normally built, as William the Conqueror would have told you, by invading powers against hostile inhabitants.

Other commentators have pointed out the similarity of the design to a white washed "Resistance is Futile" Borg cube starship from the Star Trek tv / film series.

Copies of the outline planning application drawings and documents for this new US Embassy site re-development of Ponton Road etc. are online at:

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