THE State Department is in the process of moving the American embassy in London from glamorous Mayfair to a 450-acre industrial site on the south bank of the River Thames. The new owners of the old Grosvenor Square plot are Qatari Diar, the development wing of the Qatari government, who will turn Eero Saarinen’s masterpiece into a hotel. David Chipperfield, Britain’s top conservation architect, has been tasked with meeting the needs of wealthy guests from the Middle East. The building the diplomats are leaving behind should be appreciated as one of the finest examples of modernist architecture in Britain.
Saarinen’s creation, which opened in 1960, is deliberately Janus-faced. It is both a palace and an office building—something that its early detractors, such as Reyner Banham, a British architecture critic, were unable to applaud. Banham was a champion of innovation in architecture, and disliked the decidedly classical symmetry and rhythm of the building’s façade. The embassy looked like a modern building “when seen…Continue reading
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