For its new English home, America builds a castle

With its moat, car bomb-proof stand-off zone and clear view of any approaching terrorists, it could be 21st-century version of a castle.

Despite features designed to convey international confidence and architectural brio, the winning design for the new £275m US embassy in London, announced yesterday, epitomises the post-9/11 bunker-mentality that has swept through embassy design since the Twin Towers fell.

It was a David and Goliath moment when KieranTimberlake's design was chosen by the architectural competition jury – who included Richard Rogers. KieranTimberlake is widely admired for the firm's meticulously designed campus buildings in America, but is hardly perceived as internationally "hot" compared to the behemoths it was competing against: Richard Meier, Morphosis, and PEI Cobb Freed and Partners, whose principals have all won architecture's Oscar, the Pritzker prize.

But security is a great leveller. Just like the architectural deities they were up against, Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake were forced to design an embassy that would be hard to damage or approach at anything quicker than a cautious, Pooterish amble. British architects weren't allowed to compete in the design competition for the new embassy because of security worries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, on the other hand, has been happy to let American architects design some of our new embassies, presumably because the FCO trusts them as part of the "special relationship".

It's hard to be subtle about 21st-century anti-terrorist measures: embassies are, increasingly, built away from dense urban areas, on flat ground with clear fields of vision. The dominant feature of the embassy, which is relocating from Mayfair to the south bank of the Thames in Battersea, is the 30m wide stand-off zone around the building, complete with moat – albeit visually softened by surrounding gardens with changing levels. In essence, the stand-off makes it impossible for the building to be rammed at speed by a truck filled with explosives.

The US Department of State said the building would "contribute significantly to the urban fabric of the historic city of London through the demonstration of exceptional American architecture, technology and sustainability". It will be carbon-neutral; it will have biomass boilers; it will have crystal-like ethylene-tetrafluoroethylene scrims – don't ask! – on its façades; it will have art-walls and internal gardens.

There's more: "It will speak to the time-honoured relationship between the US and the UK and will reflect the values of the American people." A fine sentiment, but rather undermined by the moat that will repel all unwelcome comers to the embassy's Nine Elms site on the south bank of the Thames in Battersea.

Is KieranTimberlake's design great architecture? Not on the evidence of the visuals, although in technical and operational terms it will probably be outstanding. It certainly wasn't the most intriguing design of the four on the final shortlist. Richard Meier's scheme had a great deal more distinction in terms of its coolly abstract form. And the offering from PEI Cobb Freed and Partners promised beautifully refined façades. These two schemes had a gravitas that KieranTimberlake's seems to lack.

Of the losers, Mr Meier will be the least disturbed. "I would rather," he has said, "build a project in the US than anywhere else in the world. America is the place where freedom, productivity, experimentation and innovation meet." One so hopes these things will catch on here soon.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum