Fortress America, London SW4

February 23rd, 2010 | researchmaterial

The new US embassy to the Court of St James’s has been designed, says the US state department, to "reflect the values of the American people".


As reported by the Guardian, the new US Embassy in London is intended to be "a 12-storey cube clad in a blastproof glass and plastic façade" surrounded by a 30-metre blast zone. In the proof image above, it looks not unlike a high-end bunker has been simply dropped from space on London, an impregnable and isolated chunk of America. And while security is an obvious and present concern, I think perhaps this building says a little more than it was intended to.

In fact, let’s admit it. IT’S A FORTRESS WITH A FUCKING MOAT. It doesn’t say "welcome to a little piece of America, one of the best ideas the world ever had and a country that welcomes the tired and poor and afraid." It says "if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof. Raise the drawbridge! Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!"

It’s pretty funny, really.

51 Responses to “Fortress America, London SW4”

  1. Also: SQUARE.

  2. Resistance is futile…

  3. “Plastic façade” says it all right there. Though, sadly, this is more exciting than the sad excuses for new architecture we see around here these days (for examples go look at

  4. New TOTW: “Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!”

  5. To be fair, most of the US embassies I’ve seen in my travels tend to the fortress-like, with big stone walls and guards and whatnot. I remember the US embassy in Paris being particularly walled in where the lumpenproles like me had to enter, so at least the moat is nice to look at.

    What do you think the over/under is on people peeing in the lake in the first month after it’s completed?

  6. You will be assimilated.

  7. God, how embarrassing. I wonder if there will be a box outside where they’ll make you leave your shoes before you’re allowed in?

  8. Ah, jeez. We suck. What happened to us?

  9. Why would we employ Mongolian terror trout? We’ll use our own, superior Freedom Terror Trout (manufactured in China, but that’s trivial).

  10. On the building of the similarly fortress-like new embassy in Kenya:

    The two newest U.S. embassies show how the threat of terrorism has altered the architecture of America’s diplomatic missions. Unlike its predecessor, a five-story structure crammed next to high-rise buildings in a busy downtown area of Nairobi, the new 125,000-square-foot embassy here occupies a 17-acre plot in an upscale suburb north of the city, is set back more than 100 feet from the street and uses smaller amounts of glass.

    “These are buildings that make a statement,” said Charles R. Stith, the former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and now director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University. “They tell people like Bin Laden that the U.S. just will not be intimidated. We’re here to stay.”


  11. It looks like a Borg cube…

  12. Clearly, America is finally putting her head in the right place! America, FUCK YEAH!

  13. “It’s only a model.”

    (…for now. Would that it might stay that way.)

  14. the site they’re building it on is one of the hubs of the psy-trance squat party scenes in London, as Jon Snow, of all people, pointed out on channel 4 news earlier.

  15. Ah, I see our impregnable battle station is nearly complete!

    Blast port? Oh, nothing to worry about. It would take an expert shot with preternaturally keen sight to even notice such a minute detail, let alone use it to their advantage. We are perfectly safe in here.

  16. As an American I would hope that if you asked one hundred Americans what sort of building “reflects the values of the American people” you would get one hundred different answers. I am curious what a native of the UK, especially one with an artistic sensibility, would have liked to see instead. I know that many of us here do legitimately value our history and alliance with the UK and reading that article it is sad to think our embassy will be viewed in such a way.

  17. If it’s not an autofac that spits out Combine MkIII Ogres I’m going to be kind of disappointed.


  18. Yeah and totally awesome dungeons^H^H^Henhanced interrogation rooms!

  19. But is is a little squat to use as the control tower for Airstrip One.

  20. Yes, it is all of these things. But can we all admit that it looks super bad-ass! Go U.S.A.

    (And no, we don’t use our own terror trout. It’s 76% cheaper to buy them from Mongolia).

  21. It looks like a wall of water cooler bottles…

  22. […] a comic book writer who has quickly become one of my favorite people on the Internet, offers an evaluation of the proposed design for the new U.S. Embassy in London. “Release the Mongolian Terror […]

  23. It makes me think of the movie, The Cube. We’re going to drop random citizens in it and only the mentally challenged will escape.

  24. Reminds me of the US embassy here in Beijing

  25. Fuck. Every time I think my country will pull its head out of its ass, it does something like this.

  26. A retro flashbulb

  27. Can’t wait to picnic there.
    “This embassy rises on tapered legs”…Is it airliner-proof?

  28. Let’s follow the reasoning to the end.

    It’s built to be a target. Can’t miss it. Can be targeted with limited colateral damages. Clearly, all that’s missing from the design is the giant bullseye drawing on each of the 5 sides.

    Walking near this building could be a bad idea. They’re making a no man’s land right smack in the middle of London. No wonder the 2 brits on the design jury objected.

  29. I’m pretty sure this building was in an ep of Flash Forward.

  30. It’s actually to keep you safe from our fucking virus-like stupidity.

  31. At least it provides good protection during the outbreak of zombies.

  32. All it’s missing is frickin’ sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads in the moat.

  33. Looks like Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin got upgraded, finally.

  34. […] antithetical to the concept of an embassy. Let me defer to my favorite cranky Brit, Warren Ellis, on evaluating the design. In the proof image above, it looks not unlike a high-end bunker has been simply dropped from space […]

  35. The Inman report, written by Bobby Inman (DIA, NSA, CIA) after the 1985 Lebanon barracks suicide bomb attack, requires all US embassies to basically be isolated fortresses. The #1 technique to make a building survivable against a bomb attack is setback/standoff distance, as the explosion force rapidly dissipates with increasing range.

    So all US embassies are designed to a) keep a bomb-stuffed truck well away (and, of course, sharing a wall with another building is impossible), and b) survive a bomb-stuffed truck exploding nearby.

    I have to say, the moat is much prettier than the usual unsightly bollards, but the symbolism is unfortunate.

  36. Looking at that roof I’m hoping it splits apart and a Thunderbird shoots out.

  37. […] Warren Ellis: In fact, let’s admit it. IT’S A FORTRESS WITH A FUCKING MOAT. It doesn’t say “welcome to a little piece of America, one of the best ideas the world ever had and a country that welcomes the tired and poor and afraid.” It says “if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof. Raise the drawbridge! Release the Mongolian Terror Trout!” […]

  38. The design regulations for architects and engineers dictated by the U.S. Federal government for embassies are tremendously rigorous, restrictive, and very very concerned with security. They were 10 years ago when I did an embassy design competition while still in school and I imagine they’re even more restrictive and paranoid about security now.

    I’m not entirely fond of the building design. I actually prefer Richard Meir’s more evocative entry over this one. Meanwhile, the oft-praised Thom Mayne/Morphosis is pretty much the same thing as this one, just with a vague-blob building instead of a cube.

    If they didn’t do the pond/lake, the only other option open to them apart from continuing the grass terraces and retaining (blast) walls around the entire thing would be a large plaza full of bollards and concrete retaining blast walls. In that case, the “moat” is actually better than an empty barren and foreboding plaza below the cube structure.

    I still don’t like the building itself, though.

  39. […] Warren Ellis has some good thoughts about what this layout and design is actually saying about US post-9/11 policy, but in looking at the architecture itself, I’m wondering where the […]

  40. Silly Englishers. We’re CALLING it an embassy. It’s actually your new APPLE STORE!

  41. Regarding the message of “if you even look at us funny we’ll pour boiling oil on you from the roof.”: I see it as being the other way around: It is _not_ people in the building preventing those running into the sanctuary for asylum. Rather, I see the Americans going out of their way into hostile terrorists to offer sanctuary to a few; the fortress is for preserving the sanctuary in a hostile place. BUT: I do consider such altruism on the part of Americans misguided to say the least; it is more likely stupidity induced by having accepted evil philosophical ideas from religion, Kant, and others.

  42. The Ministry of Love (miniluv) opens the doors to its newest franchise. All visitors please report to Room 101.

  43. Mind you, their airport immigration checkpoints have signs reading “Welcome to the United States” and ours have signs reading “UK BORDER – DO NOT USE MOBILE PHONES NO PHOTOGRAPHY PS IF YOU ARE AN ASYLUM SEEKER READ THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE in tiny print and usually in English OR STARVE”.

  44. Once considered an invasive species, Mongolian Terror Trout are now farm-raised in the rural southern states for the delight of Xtreme sport fishermen and classified Homeland Security purposes. We prefer “Mississippi Freedom Fish”.

  45. OK, someone kinda beat me to the “Freedom Fish” joke… I blame it in my timezone.

  46. That’s about the size of it.

    We used to be interested in the world, fascinated by other cultures and people who would be willing to leave their entire lives behind for a chance at having what we grew up with. We used to think “THIS? THIS is what everyone else on the planet is clamoring for? Well, can’t really understand it, but whatever; if they want to come over, let them come on in to our Embassy and we’ll see what we can do. We can always use more gardeners…”

    Now, our attitude is more like “Apparently we are required to have sovereign territory within your national borders, surrounded on all sides by your teeming, hostile alien citizens just itching for an excuse to ‘immigrate’ (read: INVADE) our lush, wonderful paradise of a country. Well, forget it, furriners. We will defend this inadequate patch of sovereign territory with the last drop of blood of the mercenaries we hire to provide security, as we cower whimpering behind our desks, hoping no one makes us interact with you scary, scary people from another country.”

    It’s a lethal mix of fear and mindless rage. Handle with care – we are truly unbalanced.

    And finally; Sorry for all this. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do to quell the fears of my countrymen. Maybe some time will do the trick – dog knows logic has had minimal impact.

  47. We should just take over the Gherkin. What a statement that would make. Come and marvel at our giant glass and metal, bulging phallus. Blow that up? No, you know you want to worship it.

  48. We are still pretty murderously terrified after watching a bunch of saudi’s and egyptians fly planes into the largest buildings of our largest city on live tv.

  49. Will Wiles if Icon writes very well and objectively about the design and the criticisms against it at – “The defensive zone itself was always going to be heavily landscaped … “it’s a fortress behind a moat” talk is old news – that is what the Americans wanted and what Kieran Timberlake has delivered. It’s what all the other architects delivered as well.” He makes a very good point there and elsewhere in the article. The strict program and design guidelines for security and stand-off zones in US embassy design have been around long before 9/11. While some of their egos and buildings may suggest otherwise, clients (especially governments) rarely give architects a blank slate to work.

  50. The us embassy in Ottawa, Canada has always struck me as a cross
    between a nuclear reactor and the emperors private retreat. Something out of that Captain Power live action show from the eighties. Add to that the church nearby that looks like a missile launch site and it’s a creepy
    neighbourhood to stumble through…

  51. Have you seen the one in Istanbul? That really is a fortress….