C&G Partners recently completed branding, signage and interpretive design for the U.S. Embassy in London. A seminal current architectural project with an overall budget of over $1 billion, the building in Nine Elms on London's South Bank opened earlier this year with finishing touches more recently completed.
Balancing the functional needs of a foreign diplomatic outpost with overtures to openness and inspirational American culture was a central component in the approach used by the design studio. Responsible for embassy branding, signage and interpretive design, the studio worked to integrate these elements in signature designed landscape, architecture and interiors to bring a sense of American spirit and inspiration to the structure.
"For the embassy's experiential graphics and signage, we strove to create a particular poetry of place in a manner that a welcoming American emissary might employ," said Keith Helmetag, founding principle, C&G Partners, who oversaw the studio's work on the project.
At the doorstep, for example, the studio juxtaposed the solidity of 'Embassy of the United States' in bronze inset in granite adjacent to a waterfall and symbolic pond. In the reception area, the notion of "poetry of place" is expressed with a monolithic country seal - initially computer-numerical control (CNC) cut and then hand-crafted to finish on limestone panels embedded into the paneled limestone wall - that crowns the intimately chiseled names of ministers and U.S. ambassadors to the UK, starting with John Adams and concluding with current ambassador Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets football team.
The concept surfaces inside and out, with poignant, iconic quotes from Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and others embedded in exterior stone paving and carved into interior limestone walls and flooring, as well as with white glass panels that reflect visitors atop directions to departments.
Representative American landscapes and habitat - prairie, desert and Pacific forest - are transformed into gardens on the site. A terrace and interior conservatories are interpreted with descriptive panels, narratives and photographs accompanied with noteworthy quotes by American naturalists such as John Muir and others.
C&G Partners created all of the embassy's exterior and interior signage. The identification sign was coordinated directly with the granite wall and fountain with each stone matching the letter in the same fashion as historic metal typography that created documents like the Declaration of Independence broadsides.
The main sign went through numerous design concept iterations such as raised stone lettering, applied metal lettering, some of which were mocked-up but rejected by the studio due to legibility and other factors. The current design evolved from this exploration and was well received.
Other signs in the site, landscape and inside have been carefully integrated with materials and architecture. For example, exterior stainless steel sign panels match limestone wall panels; signs inside are rendered on full-height white glass reflecting the modernist character of corridors and spaces.
The building was designed by architectural firm KieranTimberlake in conjunction with Olin Landscape Architects, replacing the previous Eeno Saarinen-designed embassy in London's Mayfair district. The new building is engineered to accommodate high security standards while using a visual language of modernism and openness.
Photos: Courtesy of C&G Partners