Embassy building for the Islamic Republic of Iran
Kensington & Chelsea
A new embassy building for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Designed by Daneshgar Architects.
23 September 2010
Planning reference: PP/10/00153
CABE is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the planning application for the Embassy of Iran, a building of national significance for both the UK and Iran. Our comments are based on an incomplete set of drawings, as detailed plans are not made available. This limits the scope of our comments to the appearance of the building, and the public spaces it creates. We find much to admire in the design of the embassy, and think it will be successful in creating a welcoming environment. We find the scale and massing appropriate to its context, and support the elegant simplicity of its architectural expression. The project also has many positive attributes in terms of its environmental sustainability. However, we think there is scope to further improve the design of the exhibition building, entrance and pavement edges, the glass box at the upper levels on Harrington Road, landscape and detailed design.
Exhibition cube and arch
The design of the Iranian Embassy is based on the strong architectural concept of a courtyard building, cut away and sculpted in response to existing buildings around it. The exhibition cube on the corner of Queen’s Gate and Harrington Road seems to depart from this concept, with geometry out of alignment with the rest of the building. The main courtyard building forms an arch above the exhibition cube. We also think the concept of this grand arch is not successful, implying a grand public entrance, although it leads only to a private garden. The narrow section of solid wall supporting the cantilevered arch on Harrington Street side, gives an appearance of instability, and we have doubts about whether this is even structurally feasible. We also think its soffit may have an overly dominant appearance in the context of Queen’s Gate and Harrington Road. We would recommend a simpler approach to the design of this corner of the building, maintaining a more consistent geometry with the rest of the embassy. We also think that the public role of the exhibition building could be better announced by greater transparency.
Entrance and pavements
Two entrances to the embassy are proposed; one for the public, and another for VIPs. These have quite different functions, and frequencies of use, but are designed symmetrically either side of the exhibition cube. We think this is potentially confusing for visitors trying to identify which entrance they should use. We also think a more generous threshold space is needed between the pavement and the public entrance. At the junction between the embassy building and the pavements on Queen’s Gate and Harrington Road, there are basement lightwells. Careful design will be needed to ensure these lightwells give pleasant views from basement accommodation, as well as for pedestrians at street level.
Glass box on Harrington Road
One architectural feature of the Iranian Embassy is a glass box on the upper floors of Harrington Road. In the absence of plans and sections for the building, we do not know how this relates to internal accommodation, but are concerned that it may create problems of overheating. We understand that solutions to maintain a pleasant working environment inside this part of the building are under investigation. The architects hope to find a technical solution, which does not impact on the external appearance of the glass box. The local authority should assure itself that this can be achieved without excessive energy consumption.
Little information on landscape design was provided for our review, but we think this could make an important contribution to the success of the scheme. The creation of a courtyard at the heart of the embassy should help make it an attractive place to work or visit. However, the space available is fairly narrow, and may only receive sunlight for part of the day. The careful selection of plant species that will thrive in this environment will be important. Likewise planting proposed for the basement lightwells will need thought about the type of plants that can survive there, and the maintenance they will require.
Detailing and materials
High quality materials and construction detailing will be essential to the success of this project, because of the abstract simplicity of its architectural expression. The concept of a building that is carved and moulded to respond to its context, requires the stone tile cladding to be detailed to achieve an appearance of solidity at corners and edges. Ensuring that the building ages gracefully, and weathers evenly, will be equally important.
Many of the decisions that have been made about the form and orientation of the embassy building support its environmental sustainability. The shallow plan depths will allow plenty of natural light into the interior, reducing the need for artificial light. There is a greater area of windows on the north facades than facing south, protecting the interiors from too much solar gain. Most of the roof area is covered by green roofs, which are beneficial in cooling the urban microclimate, as well as for biodiversity. Our concern that the glass box on Harrington Road may cause overheating has been discussed above. We also query the statement that rainwater recovery systems will be used, as these tend not to be compatible with green roofs, which can taint and colour the water collected.