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State Department Names Architects for Design Excellence Program

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations chose 11 very different firms from among 88 applicants to design new embassies, consulates, and diplomatic buildings. Nine others were chosen for renovation and rehabilitation projects.

By Jayne Merkel
December 17, 2012
Image © Alan Silverman, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The street entry of the U.S. consolate in Guangzhou, China, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It is scheduled to open in May.

The U.S. Department of State has named the architects selected to compete for commissions in its new Design Excellence program. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), under the direction of Lydia Muniz, chose 11 very different firms from among 88 applicants to design new embassies, consulates, and diplomatic buildings. Nine others were chosen for renovation and rehabilitation projects. Two firms, BNIM and Weiss/Manfredi, made both lists.

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Aside from those two, others being considered for new buildings are Ennead Architects; SHoP Architects; Steven Holl Architects; the Miller Hull Partnership; Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects; Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners; Richärd+Bauer; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s San Francisco office; and Studio Gang Architects. The other firms selected to compete for rehabilitation and renovation projects are Architecture Research Office; Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners; CO Architects; Clive Wilkinson Architects; Goody Clancy; Krueck+Sexton Architects; and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.

For nearly three decades after the Iran hostage crisis of 1979–81 and a series of embassy bombings in Africa and the Middle East, the State Department constructed one-size-fits-all buildings in fortified exurban areas. Security, economy, and speed trumped design.
But a new era was signaled by such choices as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to design the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The ambitious Design Excellence program, similar to the one at the General Services Ad­min­i­stra­tion and, like it, under the directorship of Casey Jones, was launched to symbolize the American values that prevailed after World War II, when embassies were designed by Eero Saarinen, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Edward Durell Stone.

“We are honored to have the potential of extending this legacy,” says Marion Weiss, cofounder of Weiss/Manfredi. “Our ambition is to amplify the identity of a site that already has a life of its own.” The State Department’s priorities are evident in the embassy under construction in London by KieranTimberlake. Davis Brody Bond is working on an embassy in Jakarta and is designing another in Mexico City with Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

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