Monday, October 23, 2023

Embassy of the United States of America (2017-)

London The Unfinished City
33 Nine Elms Lane, London, SW11 7US.

Compared to the old embassy building in Grosvenor Square, I find this new building rather boring. Designed as a cube, this block, which is the largest American embassy in Western Europe, has a semi-circular pond, public green spaces and entry pavilions within its grounds. 

London The Unfinished City
The north side of the embassy, as seen from the River Thames.

The lightweight 'sails', that adorn three sides of the building, stop direct sunlight hitting the interior and also make the building less likely to bird strikes.

London The Unfinished City
Here you can see the sunlight being diffused by the outer structure.

This design, however, does make for some great photo opportunities.

Brief History

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s security, at the London Chancery Building in Grosvenor Square, was tightened following worldwide terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates. 

Following the World Trade Centre attack, on September 11, 2001, security operations saw armed roadblocks outside the Embassy and one side of Grosvenor Square closed to public access by car.

London The Unfinished City
The west side of the building.

In 2007 the U.S. embassy made an unsuccessful bid to purchase Chelsea Barracks, to be used as their new Embassy building in England.

In 2008 the U.S. embassy agreed to purchase land in the Vauxhall/Nine Elms/Battersea area, south of the River Thames.

In 2009 the U.S. government sold the lease of the Chancery Building Grosvenor Square to Qatari Diar, a Qatari real-estate firm. 

In 2010 the U.S. government announced that the Kieran Timberlake firm had won the design competition. (By law, the architect for a U.S. embassy must be an American firm with "numerous security clearances").

In 2013 ground was broken on the site in Nine Elms.

In 2017 the building opened to the public.

London The Unfinished City
The west and south sides.

The Embassy Buildings - A Sustainable Site.

Greeting Hundreds of visitors from the United Kingdom and around the world every day, the Embassy of the United States of America actively engages its environment while representing the American ideals of democracy, peace and prosperity, and a sustainable future.

The Chancery and Pavilions.

Entry into the embassy is through three pavilions. These light-filled spaces are partially shaded by rooftop trellises supporting photovoltaic cells that harvest sunlight and convert it to electricity. Beyond these entranceways is the chancery, which is formed by three elements: a a colonnade, a cube and an outer structure. The colonnade is an open and inviting shelter inspired by the architecture of ancient democracies. In addition to drawing visitors inside the embassy, the colonnade supports the cube, a solid compact form that is inherently efficient in its material and energy usage. Its glass walls protect and insulate the cube while simultaneously flooding its interior spaces with daylight and highlighting city views. Beyond the cube is the outer structure, which surrounds the building on three sides. This lightweight layer reduces the amount of direct sunlight that falls on the building, helping to keep it cool while also diminishing glare and distributing daylight more evenly throughout the building's interior. This outer structure also makes the building more visible to birds and lowers the risk of bird strikes.

The embassy takes a three fold approach to energy conservation. Firstly, its design conserves as much energy as possible. Secondly, the embassy hamesses renewable resources including solar energy gathered by photovoltaic cells and geothermal energy generated through ground source heat pumps, which use the natural temperature of the earth to heat and cool the building. Thirdly, the embassy maximizes efficiency by simultaneously creating heat and electricity by way of combined heat and power (CHP) units. This system generates enough energy to satisfy the embassy's power and heating needs while also creating an excess that can be exported to the local community.

The first American legation in London opened in 1785, when John Adams was appointed the first minister.

Below is a list of the locations of the U.S. embassy, throughout the centuries in London.

  1. Great Cumberland Place
  2. Piccadilly
  3. 98 Portland Place (1863–1866)
  4. 123 Victoria Street in Westminster (1883–1893) (1893–1912)
  5. 4 Grosvenor Gardens (1912–1938)
  6. 1 Grosvenor Square (1938–1960)
  7. London Chancery Building in Grosvenor Square (1960–2018)
  8. 33 Nine Elms Lane, (2018-)


  1. Very good history. Having seen the building myself from the outside, I was rather unimpressed. It looks like it's clad in plastic and, for me, doesn't win any prizes.

  2. The building definitely looks like an art project that hasn't quite worked.