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The British Hate Our New London-Embassy Design

By contrast, they thought that a competing design, by Thom Mayne/Morphosis, was “touched by genius.”

Thom Mayne Embassy

Yesterday, news broke that workaday Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake had beat out a star-studded line-up to design the new U.S. Embassy in London. Just one wrinkle: The two British jurors who sat on the committee that selected the design reportedly hate it.

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The two happen to be some of the biggest names in British art and design, architect Lord Richard Rogers and art-collector/architecture critic Lord Peter Palumbo. According to The Guardian:

Rogers and Palumbo are said to have thought the design was boring and”not good enough to represent one of the great nations in London”, saidsources familiar with the jury process. By contrast, they consideredMayne’s design to be “touched by genius”.

The Mayne proposal is above, and here’s the winning one by KieranTimberlake:

 KieranTimberlake Embassy

It’s hard not to concede the point made by Palumbo and Rogers: Where’s Mayne’s design is all openness, courtyards, and curves, the comparatively bunker-like KieranTimberlake proposal looks like it can, in a pinch, be fitted with huge American flags and missile launchers. (Borg cube, anyone?) As Jonathan Glancey wrote in The Guardian:

Cool, remote and superficially transparent, the winning design does reflect what we can divine of the U.S. political process…The days of pottering about in the fine library of the Eero Saarinen-designed U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square are long gone. All foreigners are suspect. They should keep their distance in future justas this defensive embassy, surrounded by corporate-style office blocks,will from them and, sadly, central London itself.

It’s shocking that Rogers and Palumbo were reportedly so disenchanted enough to file a “minority report” airing their grievances. Don’t they know that in a modern democracy, the best design never wins?

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But it should be said that KieranTimberlake have never been known for particularly beautiful buildings–but rather thoughtful green ones that work. That’s a talent in itself, albeit of a different sort. Which is why they appear at #8 on our 2010 list of Most Innovative Architecture Firms.

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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