The US embassy in Baghdad opened for business earlier this month, to a collective shudder from all corners of the architecture world. Eesh, it’s bad. It’s everything an embassy shouldn’t be: imposing, fortress-like, and frightening, one security measure after another, piled up into some semblance of architecture. A bunker, and not even a glorified one. Why must we suffer with these embassy blues?
All architecture is political. It can do great things — watch the final scenes of My Architect and you’ll see what we mean. Architecture shows who we are as a society, for better or for worse, but good architecture shows, yes, who we want to be. And what better place to advertise a country’s best qualities than an embassy? Problem is, buildings aren’t just monuments, they have to do things, and in the case of embassies, the US doesn’t try to hide priority number one: not getting blown up. The 1998 bombings at our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania led to a huge building boom surge — sixty new, higher-security embassies have gone up around the world since 2000.
For the new one in London, Uncle Sam pointed his finger at the biggest and best in the country: Richard Meier; Morphosis; Gwathmey Siegel; Kallmann, McKinnell, and Wood; KeiranTimberlake; Kohn Pedersen Fox; Pei Cobb Freed; Perkins + Will; and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Obviously, we’re trying to make a good impression. So Richard, Thom, Charles, and all the rest, if you’re reading this — take heed.