The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

U S Embassy, London by Eero Saarinen

C20 Society opposes damaging changes to Saarinen’s US Embassy

The Twentieth Century Society has objected to proposals for damaging alterations to the sixth floor and interior of the US Embassy building in London. An application to convert the building to a hotel has been made following the move of the US Embassy to its new site in Battersea. The C20 Society put the building forward for listing in 2009 and it was subsequently listed at Grade II. Designed by Eero Saarinen, who was known for his embassy buildings, the US embassy is not only a landmark listed building in Grosvenor Square, London, but one whose importance extends both nationally and internationally.

Converting the building to a hotel seems an appropriate new use and some of the proposed alterations will not compromise its original design intent or heritage significance. These include a rear infill extension, a new rooftop pavilion and the removal of the ground floor external glacis feature. The reconfiguration of the external stairs to the main entrance and addition of free standing canopy are also an uncontroversial modification, within the idiom of Saarinen’s work as seen in the US Embassy in Oslo, Norway.

However, C20 Society is objecting to the design of the new sixth floor extension, particularly because of the proportion of the façade treatment. The proposed double height sixth floor will damage the present proportions of the listed building, fundamentally changing the rhythm of the front façade. We believe this will cause significant and substantial harm to the character of the building as listed, and are disappointed that this damaging aspect of the scheme remains despite the Society having made suggestions at pre-application stage as to how the effect could be ameliorated. The Society considers that by adjusting the articulation of the fenestration and façade treatment of this double height element, an extension could be produced which would yield as much space whilst reducing the harm caused to the listed building.

We are also concerned that the demolition of the majority of the internal spaces, with the exception of the first floor diagrid, will inevitably cause substantial harm to the listed building. In particular, the Society is objecting to the removal of original interior staircases which we understand are unaltered and considered to be of heritage value.

Clare Price, Senior Conservation Adviser of the Twentieth Century Society said: “We are pressing for these plans to be revised to avoid unnecessary damage to this internationally important example of Saarinen’s embassy portfolio.”