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East Coast-West Coast Split on Morphosis and Other Embassy Designs

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Morphosis's design via the LAT; this design was passed over in favor of a KieranTimberlake design

Yesterday the State Department released the design for the US's new London embassy by Philadelphia firm KieranTimberlake, which replaces Eero Saarinen's 1960 building in a less remote part of town. The LA Times' Christopher Hawthorne is optimistic about the design's reconciliation of security and image issues; the New York Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff calls those tensions "irresolvable." The critics have pretty different takes on the three runners up too, including the design by Santa Monica's Morphosis. (The other two are by the LA office* (We originally wrote the firm was New York-based; they are bicoastal.) of Richard Meier & Partners and New York's Pei Cobb Freed.)

Hawthorne writes that the single images released "suggest that the jury likely had a relatively clear choice in the end," but that the Morphosis design "has the coiled, contorted power of the firm's most provocative work, calling for an undulating but also sagging tower rising unsteadily atop skinny pillars next to a series of jagged underground spaces that suggest military bunkers." However, "If conservative critics may find certain elements to dislike in the KieranTimberlake design, they would have positively howled over Mayne's design, which suggests not an embassy stoutly fortified against possible attack but one that already has absorbed some major blows." Ouroussoff, on the other hand, thinks the design, "a distorted horseshoe wrapped around a deconstructed version of the Capitol dome in Washington, packs the most symbolic punch."

Ouroussoff also regrets that the State Department didn't invite more firms to submit detailed designs, and that less-established firms like Santa Monica's Daly Genik Architects "have been shut out of high-profile government commissions by a convoluted competition process that favors known quantities."
· Architecture review: The new U.S. Embassy in London [LAT]
· A New Fort, er, Embassy, for London [NYT]