Steven Holl, Studio Gang, Weiss/Manfredi Compete to Design U.S. Embassies

The U.S. Embassy in London designed by Eero Saarinen (1960)

For American designers of capital-A Architecture, builders of museums, skyscrapers, academic buildings, and mixed-use monuments, here’s another building typology to add to the project list: U.S. embassies. The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) at the U.S. Department of State is blazing ahead with its Design Excellence program, which has in recent years sent firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Tod Williams┬áBillie Tsien Architects around the world to construct U.S. embassies respectful of their surroundings. According to Architectural Record, OBO recently selected 11 firms to compete for new commissions, including Studio Gang Architects, Steven Holl Architects, SHoP Architects, and Weiss/Manfredi.

The goal is to design (or renovate) facilities that break out of the fortified exurban shell that has defined the standard-issue U.S. embassy since 1979, when a series of security breaches prompted the Department of State to compromise the designs of their embassies and consulates in the name of safety. Prior to this, architects such as Eero Saarinen, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer had been commissioned to export America’s postwar optimism around the world in the form of modernist embassy buildings. “We are honored to have the potential of extending this legacy,” said Marion Weiss, a principal of Weiss/Manfredi, to Architectural Record. “Our ambition is to amplify the identity of a site that already has a life.”

Photo: copyright RIBA Library Photographs Collection

- Kelly Chan