The new US Embassy building in London opened in January 2018. But why was a new building necessary – and was it really a bad deal for the US tax payer? Public access to the surrounding grounds has been possible since early summer 2018. We went for a first visit.
The former US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair was designed in the 1960’s by the architect Eero Saarinen. Established on a long lease-hold from the Grosvenor Estate it was only a block away from the home of the first US Envoy to the Royal Court in 1785; John Adams.
But the building’s architecturally listed status made alterations difficult and serious when it could no longer meet the security requirements forced upon US embassies world-wide. Also, the old embassy was in the middle of a residential community making residents feel uneasy about the impact of any security related incidents.
The US Government sold the 999 year lease on the site to Qatar Real Estate for around £1 billion. With the funds, a new five acre site in Battersea was purchased and one of the most advanced embassy buildings in the world was constructed out of the proceeds – so it didn’t cost the US taxpayer a cent! With a 100 feet set-back from the road and water features (modern day moat), Battersea meets all the security requirements.
A third of the site is given over to space accessible by the public. A walk around it makes for some startling contrasts of hi-tech and nature. The architect is Kieran Timberlake from Philadelphia.
The old building will most likely by converted into high end residential and hotel space. But at least the planning restrictions stipulate the embassy façade must be retained – along with the aluminium gilded sculpture of the thirty-five feet wingspan American Bald Eagle by Theodore Roszak!