By Shannon Salgadoe
Principal architect of the new US Embassy in Colombo previews the design of the building
In 2010, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations began a program to redesign the architectural designs of their diplomatic buildings around the world, trying to focus on more thoughtful design. The Design Excellence program moved away from heavily fortified structures that largely lacked individuality towards more welcoming yet majestic designs that were still secure.
The result? Twelve years later, this week, the United States Embassy in Colombo opened its brand new building designed to reflect American values while respecting the culture of its host country, Sri Lanka. The contemporary structure designed by US firm ZGF Architects emphasizes sustainable design, as reflected in the firm’s own philosophy. “The Embassy compound embodies the enduring friendship between the United States and Sri Lanka. We are committed to environmental leadership and sustainable design and construction,” says Ambassador Julie Chung.
“Embassies are inherently iconic in any design because of what they represent, especially to the United States. In a country like Sri Lanka, it’s so important because it’s really the view of the local culture, so we want it to be majestic,” says Peter van der Meulen, the main architect behind the design, in a Zoom interview with The Sunday Times. “We don’t particularly want it to stand out in We want it to be welcoming and so for this project we searched as we do for most overseas projects, we are looking for cues from the local culture. tropical, architecture from some of Sri Lanka’s well-known ones, the most famous being Geoffrey Bawa of course.
Drawing inspiration from Lankan architects such as Bawa, whose style of tropical modernism takes into consideration the elements of a tropical island, the overall design has been deliberately designed to reflect a simple form and includes a performance facade such as the use wide overhangs on each floor. level for sun protection and protection from precipitation. Rest areas are provided inside the building and outdoor areas are present in the form of terraces and gardens.
The landscape is best utilized through the use of trees which provide shade and canopy and reflect the ecology of the island. Natural stone and locally sourced wood reference the region’s rich material palette and the interior incorporates textures and patterns inspired by local culture and art.
“It’s a real honor for us to have the opportunity to design something substantial in a foreign country. This project, like many projects, has evolved as we have developed. We had to figure out how to create half of the new complex, leaving half of the existing one in place,” says Vandermeulen, referring to the still-existing old embassy building that has yet to be fully demolished.
The new sustainable design reduces energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions and increases the use of renewable energy. A climate-sensitive shell shields the interior from solar heat gain, and photovoltaic cells offset approximately 11% of annual energy expenditure. An on-site wastewater treatment plant treats and recycles gray water for irrigation. The project is registered with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – a global green building certification that recognizes the best building strategies and practices – and is on track to achieve Silver certification.
The open spaces – not often typical of embassies or consulates which serve both aesthetic and functional purposes – are enhanced by the art collection curated by the Office of Art which includes paintings, photographs, textiles and sculptures by American and Sri Lankan artists, reflecting the diversity and richness of the ecology and cultural heritage of the United States and Sri Lanka.
The new complex houses the American Center which opened to the public in late September and accommodates library patrons, youth forum members and other programs. “It is truly a space for collaborative learning and digital engagement, so we will continue to host media literacy, science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) events. All these events are free of charge. There is no cost for the participants”, notes the ambassador. “We have also already organized many discussion sessions here, for example on the participation of young people in democracy. We want to symbolize a free and open exchange of ideas here in
“It’s not just the US Embassy, it’s the US Embassy in Sri Lanka. We want to make sure our mind reflects that,” she says.
Looking for an ideal partner? Find your soul mate on Hitad.lk, Sri Lanka’s favorite marriage proposal page. With Hitad.lk marriage ads, you have access to thousands of ads from potential suitors who are looking for someone like you.