DBB + TWBTA Present the New US Embassy in Mexico City

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Tod Williams and Billie Tsien — winners of the 2013 National AIA Firm of the Year and National Medal of Arts — recently visited DBB for a lively and entertaining discussion of the history, design, process, and current state of the new US Embassy Campus in Mexico City. When completed, the project, a collaboration between TWBTA, Davis Brody Bond, and Spacesmith, will be among the largest US Embassies in the world, providing a secure, modern, and environmentally sustainable platform for US diplomacy. The 1,000,000 sf multi-building complex is currently being constructed on an 8.5-acre site in the New Polano District of Mexico City.

Carl Krebs of DBB kicked off the presentation by giving a brief history of US Embassy design, from the 1954–1960 “glory days” of US Embassy Design (w.g. Walter Gropius in Athens, Ralph Rapson in Stockholm); to the security-minded Standard Embassy Design (SED) guidelines that resulted from Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; to DBB’s early projects with OBO (the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations) working within stringent SED design constraints. Carl talked briefly about some of the challenges DBB has faced and overcome in its recent embassy work in Jakarta, Indonesia and Pristina, Kosovo; as well as about the early discussions between DBB, TWBTA and OBO about whether to locate the embassy in its current urban / city center context or to relocate it to the outskirts of town.

Carl then handed the reins over to Tod and Billie, together with Greg O’Malley of TWBTA, who riffed on a diverse range of topics, including the history of the Design Excellence program at OBO and how the new US Embassy in Mexico City has fit into it; three early design schemes; the rich urban, architectural and cultural context of Mexico City and how it informed the building design; the incorporation of local arts and crafts into the design; and a few of the more ambitious design details (such as the faceted metal screen shown above) and how they have been fabricated and constructed.

Throughout the event, a common thread among all the presenters was how smooth and rewarding the design collaboration between the three firms (DBB, TWBTA and Spacesmith) has been. In an architectural world too often driven by outsized egos, the easy-going humility of the presenters and their sincere appreciation and encouragement of an open, collaborative design process really shone through. The event ended, naturally, with drinks and smiles all around. (As construction of the complex project continues apace, we all hope that spirit of collegiality and congeniality continues!)

The TWBTA + DBB + Spacesmith Design Team

The TWBTA + DBB + Spacesmith Design Team