The Twentieth Century Society is delighted to hear that Eero Saarinen’s US Embassy building in Mayfair, London, is now listed at Grade II. The Society put Saarinen’s 1960 building forward for listing in July 2007, following reports in the press that the US State Department had started investigating the possibility of divesting themselves of their London Chancellery Building because this was considered indefensible according to post 9/11 security standards.
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) is now considered one the foremost post-war architects in the US. The building is one of only three built by the architect outside of his home country. One of them, the airport in Athens is now disused and his Chancellery in Oslo is currently also under threat of closure because it is in a similarly situation in terms of safety. The Society’s listing application was supported by statements of significance by eminent experts on Saarinen from the US, all of which were equally concerned about the future of this building.
Sadly, in recent years the building was strongly associated with threats of terrorist attacks and a heavily fortified presence of concrete blast barriers and 6ft-high fences. However, the original vision of the State Department and its architect was for a building that would be both modern as well as appropriate to the host country.
Saarinen’s approach to the ‘modern’ incorporated many of the conventions of modern architecture into his work but also introduced more idiosyncratic elements, such as sensuous curves, complex geometries, and organic themes. At the same time, Saarinen designed a contextual building that took into consideration the neo-Georgian neighbouring buildings around the square – reflected in the strong symmetry of the building and the careful proportioning of the facade, influenced by existing window and building heights.
With the US Embassy moving out and security requirements dropping to either commercial or residential levels, there will be a renewed opportunity for a celebration of Saarinen’s original architectural vision for the building. There remains to be seen what the new scheme for the building will actually involve but, now under statutory protection, the Society is pleased that this will be safeguarded for future generations and any necessary alterations will be monitored, in line with the national policy guidelines on the Historic Environment.
For more information or photographs of the US Embassy building, please contact Christina Malathouni at the Twentieth Century Society on 020 7250 3857 or by email – Christina.Malathouni(at)c20society.org.uk