Later this year, the new US Embassy in London will open, a giant glass cube on a formerly industrial site south of the River Thames.
The embassy, which cost a record $1 billion, provoked controversy almost from the moment it was announced. Some critics complained the design, by the firm KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia, is too forbidding. (The embassy sits behind a ring of ponds and gardens, essentially a modern moat.)
Members of Congress balked at the price tag. At a hearing in 2015, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House oversight committee, slammed the government’s construction process as mismanaged, resulting in a building with an “opulent-looking” glass façade that favors aesthetics over security.
Can a building that meets rigorous security standards also be beautiful, and if so, at what cost? Modern embassy design revolves around this question.
Today’s security requirements are both stringent and complicated. In addition to being constructed of blast-resistant materials, a new American embassy must have a 100-foot setback from the street; a high wall or fence around its perimeter; and anti-ram barriers (to prevent vehicular attacks). […]