“Australia’s relationship with the United States is one of our most significant, strategic and long-standing,” says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. And it is with this optimistic spirit of future-focused thinking that Ms Bishop has unveiled plans for a new Australian embassy on the site of the existing building in Washington DC.
The Australian embassy stands just over a kilometre north of the White House on 16th Street NW at the junction of Scott Circle, and with the distinction of marking the start of the “Embassy Row” precinct, a prominent façade was key. Now, it has been announced that the current embassy will be replaced by a new $237 million building, designed by Bates Smart.
The award-winning Australian architectural firm, which has offices in both Melbourne and Sydney, represents the gold standard of Australian architecture. Already responsible for some of Australia’s most iconic buildings, be they residential, commercial or civic, Bates Smart now has the honour of taking their unique brand of design innovation to represent Australia, and it’s architecture, at the highest level of foreign relations.
“The current embassy was designed in an era which was all about reflecting Washington and the normal conservative standards of the 1960s,” explained Bates Smart director Kristen Whittle. “It deferred to the language of Washington. The new embassy defers to the Australian character and synthesises that with the local precinct character.”
The new building will occupy the same footprint as the existing building, but is designed to move away from the conservative values with which was the current embassy was built. Instead, the Bates Smart design will reflect contemporary Australia, with glass and a copper-based cladding to give it a red hue to represent Australia’s natural colours.
“What we have on the ground floor is a high level of transparency with a mixture of exhibition and function spaces that penetrate deeper into the building to a central light well or atrium that forms the symbolic heart of the project,” explains Whittle.
A construction contract is due to be awarded in 2019, with demolition and construction due to start later that year. While construction is underway staff in Washington will be relocated to temporary leased accommodation from the first quarter of 2019 until the new embassy is ready for occupancy in the first half of 2022.