JOURNAL/ Australian Embassy/2017


Design Philosophy - Architecture
Reflecting modern day Australia

 “Confident and timeless, representing the importance of the Australian US relationship”

Kristen Whittle

Director, Bates Smart

The new Australian Embassy directly reflects Australia as a modern, dynamic and contemporary culture, while at the same time providing Washington with an exceptional building. It is a building that doesn’t compete with the city’s key monuments, but nevertheless exudes its own positive and emblematic glow.

The brief outlined the need to provide a secure, contemporary and environmentally efficient facility that supports the advancement of Australia’s foreign policy. The government requested a building that is uniquely Australian and clearly modern, but at the same time respectful of the historic and urban context. They wanted a building that would project Australia’s position and status in both public and diplomatic contexts, as well as a timeless design that is inviting and functional and importantly meets our security requirements.

Bates Smart Director Kristen Whittle explains:

“Our approach for creating a ‘uniquely Australian’ experience was to analyse and abstract qualities of the extraordinary landscape across the country. The beguiling colour, especially the earthy and russet tones of the desert, the strong horizon line and expanse of skies that characterises many of our distinct panoramas and the distinct clear bright light of our natural environment.”

The exterior of the building embodies these ideas both through its materiality and form. The unique and distinctive folded façade is a combination of treated copper and glass which cast an array of soft shadows across the building. The colouration of the metal, with its reddish tonality creates beauty and warmth and is evocative of desert landscapes. The glass emphasises the importance of light and creates a sense of openness throughout. The building addresses the prominent Washington roundabout, Scott Circle, and the façade responds directly to the changing line of approach this context provides. From the north, a greater extent of the metal façade is presented, reflecting the solidity and red brick language of the surrounding 16th Street neighbourhood. To the south, the façade opens up with a greater extent of glass, maximising the views towards the White House and generating a more civic appearance to the building. The combination of the folded façade and a changing line of approach creates a dynamism that responds to the Washington context, whilst creating a distinctive and memorable architectural response.

The ground floor is presented as a generous and welcoming two-storey exhibition space. The extensive use of clear glass enables visitors to view the collection of Australian art and any accompanying exhibitions before entering the building.

The surrounding gardens slope upwards from the streetscape towards the exhibition spaces to create an immersive landscape setting. Street facing outdoor courtyards punctuate the landscape providing additional focal outdoor areas for art and exhibitions.

Security requirements have been seamlessly integrated into both the building and landscape design to ensure that an open and inviting environment is experienced. Sustainable design features include a green roof with an extensive photovoltaic array, a high performance thermally efficient façade, zoned air conditioning with heat recovery, and water capture and reuse.

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Design Philosophy - Internal
A holistic long term solution for the chancery

 “Embodying the vastness of Australia’s natural environment”

Mark Healey

Studio Director, Bates Smart

The interior design for the new Australian Embassy embodies the spirit of Australia, utilising a vast scale, channeling daylight, and employing honest, natural materials, to present a contemporary, optimistic and inclusive representation of Australia.

Upon entry, a generous double height space opens up, announcing itself as the grand central axis. Providing an unimpeded vista throughout the entire building, this expansive opening brings visibility to the main function space and northern landscaped courtyard beyond.

Opening off the central axis is a sequence of finely crafted, human-scaled spaces incorporating function, conference and exhibition facilities, which are to be used for ceremonial and public engagements. These spaces are punctuated by informal breakout zones which allow for a continuity of use.

Bates Smart Studio Director Mark Healey comments:

At the heart of the building a generous glass veiled atrium distributes natural light to both the workplace and the symbolic representational areas on the ground floor. The diversity of daylight and open space throughout the building reflects the intrinsic importance of light and scale in the Australian psyche, whilst also providing a positive environment for staff wellbeing.

Located directly adjacent to the core, a feature timber staircase connects all workplace levels and links a series of communal platforms within the secure staff area. These spaces face onto the central public atrium and provide informal meeting spaces, promoting interconnectivity between agencies, breaking down historic silos and providing a genuinely enjoyable place to work. The large, modular floor plates provide a highly adaptable future-focused solution for the Chancery, which will allow for dynamic change within all agencies.

The materiality of the interior is refined and timeless - a palette of timber, concrete and glass contributes to the sense of informality throughout. This distilled assemblage is complemented with bespoke textile, furniture, lighting and industrial design, all selected from the best of Australia’s design industry.

Importantly, innovative sustainability solutions and wellness considerations are integral to the design of the new Chancery. A flexible adaptable workplace strategy provides a variety of work settings, which combined with thoughtful daylighting design has resulted in work spaces that are sustainably designed and that promote health and wellbeing.

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Planning of the Australian Embassy
The Pragmatic and Poetic

 “Contextually appropriate, responding to the Washington context”

Tim Leslie

Studio Director, Bates Smart

In 1791 President George Washington appointed French born architect Pierre L’Enfant to design the new capital city of Washington DC. The city is characterised by a strong gridded plan overlaid with grand diagonal avenues. The intersections of these avenues create significant public squares and circles. The current Australian Embassy is located at one of these prominent intersections; Scott Circle, on a direct axis with the White House at the intersection of 16th Street, the Presidential Axis, and Massachusetts Avenue.

The majority of key civic buildings throughout Washington are orderly with classical overtones, strong clean lines, a monochromatic palette, and a grandeur of scale and symmetry. The existing Australian Embassy, built in the 1960s, was designed to integrate with these existing public buildings. The building was seen as a ‘good friend’ and the white Tennessee marble cladding echoes many of Washington’s significant civic buildings and monuments. The Embassy’s façade, symmetrical and balanced with a tripartite composition, fits with the classical and modernist civic language of the city.

In addressing the design for the new Embassy we carefully investigated the urban context. We wanted to provide a strong and uniquely Australian approach, whilst continuing to be sympathetic to the Washington context.

The Embassy is located in the north-west quadrant of Scott Circle, and this slightly off-centre position impacted how we approached the design. Unlike other buildings facing Scott Circle, the existing Embassy is setback from the title boundary. This approach weakened the urban coherence of Scott Circle. We decided that by reinstating a building of similar scale and form to the street frontage, we would reinforce the urban character of the city.

We noticed a distinct shift in the building grain along the N Street, which runs east-west and intersects at Scott Circle. To the south civic-scale large grain civic buildings dominate, whilst to the north a finer residential grain emerges. This change in building scale also results in a shift in materiality. Buildings south are mostly constructed in marble, glass and metal for contemporary buildings, whilst buildings north are more domestic and characterised by the use of brick.

We were also interested in the different approaches to the building. Sweeping angles from the Scott Circle roundabout and oblique approaches along the diagonal Massachusetts Avenue, provided opportunities for the building to transform in appearance depending on the direction of travel. This allowed us to tune the building to its context.

Overlaid with the urban context we were interested in exploring Australian character through interpreting our unique landscape. We wanted to explore natural lines and shifts in patterns across the façade, rather than the symmetrical and formal straight lines of the classical period. While ideas of freedom, democracy and the expanse of space are conveyed through the use of glass and transparency.

The transitioning folded copper and glass façade responds uniquely to all these contextual frameworks.

We have designed the new Embassy so that in line with the civic buildings to the south the building will appear open and crisp, culminating with a clean ‘vertical’ horizon edge at the prominent south-east corner. Whilst when approaching from the north the building will appear more solid, responding to the mass of the adjacent masonry church and the neighbouring domestic brick architecture of 16th Street.

As you move around the building, the façade transforms from one condition to another, providing a unique and memorable experience, whilst also respecting the scale, massing and street alignment of the other buildings anchoring Scott Circle.

The landscape strategy presents a vibrant green environment around the base of the building, providing an outlook for staff and visitors, whilst also contributing to the greater public realm. As Australian flora would not survive in Washington’s climate, a local based landscape strategy will be adopted, interspersed with Australian stone-paved external exhibition spaces.

Practical zoning has located the loading and carpark access to the western laneway, a generous pedestrian forecourt directly to the south of the main entrance, and a separate vehicular set down south-west of the site. The eastern frontage at 16th Street has integrated standoff distances and anti-ram walls within the landscape setting, whilst also providing pedestrians vistas to the internal galleries and outdoor exhibition spaces.

Security overlays, fundamental to the planning have been integrated seamlessly, providing an outwardly welcoming environment.

The layout of the building is clear, simple and flexible, and incorporates the latest in sustainable design and workplace thinking. Careful consideration and a distillation of thought has led to an innovative built outcome that solves a complex brief, and provides a clear unified solution that is intertwined with a poetic undercurrent celebrating the human condition.

Architecture should not be viewed as simply a physical functional construct, rather it should be approached as chambers of experience that support and nourish our daily lives and invigorate our imagination. With the design of the Australian Embassy we have sought to engage the human condition, our diversity of senses, our desire for community and places for reflection. The Embassy explores connections to landscape and to the sky above, connections to place and to one another.

As Juhani Pallassma states in ‘Understanding Architecture’, “Our experience is both the most important and the most appropriate means of evaluating architecture.”

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Natural light supports staff wellbeing

 “Capturing the Australian spirit: optimistic, calm, confident and inclusive”

Rachael McCarthy

Associate Director, Bates Smart

A central component of the design is an internal atrium that visually connects the building and floods the workspace with natural light. The use of light within the workspace is synonymous with the sense of expansive openness that characterises the Australian condition.

Bates Smart Associate Director Rachael McCarthy explains: “The atrium democratises the floor plate - providing light and community focus.”

The atrium effectively increases the daylight perimeter of the building by an impressive 40%, with 70% of the resulting workspaces located within 6m of natural light.

The introduction of natural light within the workplace is vital in supporting staff wellbeing, whilst also aligning with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum sustainable initiatives.

The design of the workplace is humanised, yet rational. The community hub and the inter-connecting staircase upon arrival enables inter-departmental collaboration, whilst respecting the differing security levels.

The hub is a warm, sun-bathed, voluminous space adjacent to the atrium and provides an activated face to the workspace.

Once within the secure envelope, the side-core floorplate provides a flexible, scalable and contiguous workspace wrapped around the central atrium. This space will accommodate the Embassy’s diverse needs now and into the future.

The workplace will be the largest single component of the building, representing approximately 55% of the total Embassy area.

Our deep experience in workplace design ensures the building will be flexible for future growth and ongoing developments in technology.

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Contract Signing Ceremony
29th November 2016

“A great honour”

Kristen Whittle

Director, Bates Smart

It was with great honour that on the 29th November 2016 Bates Smart officially signed the contract for the project.

The ceremony was attended by Kim Beazley, AC, Dennis Richardson, AO, as well as representatives from the US Embassy, DFAT and Bates Smart.

The proceedings included a Welcome to Country by Kevin Nixon, Opening Remarks by Frances Adamson and Guest Remarks by Kristen Whittle.

Kristen Whittle's speech:

“Today’s signing ceremony and this celebration is of course a very high honour for our practice.

Bates Smart has had a long and enduring legacy of designing civic buildings in and for Australia for over 160 years.

Indeed, this connection to government and representation was profoundly cemented through the hosting of the opening of the first parliament of Australia in 1901 in the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, designed in 1880 by our founder Joseph Reed.

Since then our practice has never been far away from the poignant moments that have shaped our nation.

Indeed, it was some 52 years ago when we were appointed as architects for this very same project, the Australian Embassy in Washington.

This was a building commissioned by the government of Sir Robert Menzies and developed during the Harold Holt era and finally opened by Prime Minister Sir John Gorton.

At last year’s annual Bates Smart cocktail party, we discussed the design of this project with our fellow past director, Robert Dunster, who had served as project architect in Washington during the delivery stages of the project under Sir Osborn McCutcheon, design director at Bates Smart.

It was of great interest to learn during this conversation that Sir Osborn had been bypassing known protocols and leading this project directly with the then Prime Ministers Holt and Gorton, much to the chagrin of DFAT.

It’s worth saying at this point, and to avoid the annoyance of the wonderful Kevin Nixon and his team at DFAT, that we have no intentions of breaking rank this time round and indeed it is fair to say that we have been greatly pleased to be working with such a buoyant and thoughtful team at DFAT.

We were also fortunate to have another wonderful occurrence happen to us during the competition phase of this great project - when we unearthed in our library the official book of the opening of the current embassy, which bore essays by Richard Nixon and Sir John Gorton.

There was talk in both essays about this new handsome building contributing to the attractiveness of Washington and being a tangible sign of the vitality and permanence of the Australian-American relationship.

These texts certainly pressed home the significance, tone, symbolism and gravitas of this commission.

As designers, the weight and importance of this symbolism requires us to reflect on our creativity and to ensure that is coming from a place of hope, honesty, reflection, vitality and meaning.

And for us, this meant coming back to encapsulating the experiences of Australia, to the extraordinary landscape and the beguiling colour and form of the land.

These natural qualities that we were drawn to are arguably most exemplified by the clear and expansive horizon we see in Australia, that delivers the sharp almost pristine light that supports the abundant sense of life of this great continent. It was this character that we found embodied the virtues of hope and friendship so critical for this new embassy.

And so it is these accents, these experiences that are deeply embedded into our design for the new building, both inside and out. They symbolise the presence of Australia in Washington.

The building is about a proud Australia, an open Australia and an Australia with strong character, resilience, wit, charm, endurance and beauty.

Now the hard work of delivering this project can begin and we would like to thank again the Australian Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for awarding Bates Smart this prestigious commission. A commission that is of the upmost importance to our practice, and we are here today to assert our commitment to you and to this project and to ensure that a most powerful and compelling outcome is delivered.”

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Direct Lineage, Joseph Reed to The Australian Embassy – 1853 to 2017
Robert Dunster, An Interview

With the next generation of Bates Smart now having the opportunity to work on the site of our predecessors with the new Australian Embassy in Washington, it is a particularly poignant time to reflect on our history.

The history of Bates Smart dates back to the 1850s and founder Joseph Reed, who was responsible for many of Melbourne’s most iconic buildings, including the Royal Exhibition Building. In 1879 Reed completed Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne. A shining example of Gothic Revival, the hall was the epicentre of the university until it was lost to flames in 1952.

After great controversy, it was decided that a new building would be designed rather than restoring the original design. Bates Smart was appointed to design the new hall which was completed in 1956. Designed by Sir Osborn McCutcheon, the new hall was completed under the supervision of the firm's emerging young star, architect Robert Dunster. The renowned Australian sculptor Tom Bass was also engaged and provided the copper mural relief over the entry tilted ‘Trials of Socrates’.

In the 1960s the trio of McCutcheon, Dunster and Bass came together for the design and construction of the Australian Embassy in Washington. McCutcheon as designer, Dunster as the on-site project architect and Bass providing the sculptural bronze coat of arms.

Melbourne Studio Director Tim Leslie sat down with Robert Dunster to reflect on some of the firm’s history and the design of the 1969 Australian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Read the full article here.

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Experiments with Colour

The façade of the new Embassy will offer a diversity of colour and sheen, creating a unique and distinctive building. The colouration of the copper evokes the shades of the Australian desert, and will provide the building with a warm and inviting exterior.

In collaboration with Peter Smithson, Director BG&E Facades, Bates Smart has been researching and experimenting with the different ways to treat the copper and the subsequent effects upon the colour.

Peter Smithson worked as an architect at Bates Smart in the late 1970s and assisted Robert Dunster on Collins Place (1970-80). Coincidently, Robert Dunster was the project architect for the original Bates Smart designed Australian Embassy, built in Washington 1969.

Copper is a durable metal, more resistant to corrosion than many other metals.

Different colours appear on the surface of the copper when heated due to the process of thin-film interference. This is a natural occurring phenomenon that arises due to the reflection of light waves. Heat causes a build-up of natural transparent oxide on the surface of the copper. The greater the heat, the thicker the layer, and it is this process that results in diverse spectrum of colours, from blues to reds.

In addition to the differences in appearance created by heat, coating the copper with benzotriazole, assists in preventing some forms of corrosion, but also effects the colours in the metal.

We are still in the process of investigating the different colours and properties of copper and how they will be used to create a unique façade for the Embassy.

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Virtual Reality Goggles
A new way of seeing

For the competition phase of the Embassy project, Bates Smart took advantage of the new technology provided by virtual reality goggles.

This technology generates an immersive 3D experience, and is beneficial for architects in enabling clients to better understand the scale, volume and context of potential buildings. It can impart a heightened awareness over and above that conveyed by traditional 2D methods, and enables clients and other viewers to more fully appreciate the spatial dimensions and orientation of the plan.

The goggles also offer an exciting and novel experience. In addition to gaining a heightened appreciation for the ambiance and finishes of the internal spaces, viewers can be virtually transported to a spot outside the building where they can comprehend both its scale and relationship to the surrounding streetscape and environment.


Key Stakeholder Briefings
Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull reviews the project

On the 5th September 2016, Bates Smart was selected as the preferred Tenderer and the office was invited by the Overseas Property Office (OPO) to provide a series of design briefings to key stakeholders.

Stakeholders included the Prime Minister of Australian, the Foreign Minister, and the Ambassador of Australia in Washington.

Bates Smart also provided design briefings of the competition winning scheme to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and associated agencies based in Canberra as well as the Australian Embassy post in Washington DC.

Importantly, early consultation with the US State Department, District Department of Transport, and Office of Planning were warmly received in Washington DC.

Joe Hockey commented “The new Australian Embassy will be a new DC landmark. Stunning modern design by Bates Smart.” (Twitter)

Julie Bishop MP commented “New Australian Embassy in Washington designed by Bates Smart… an innovative replacement for a … 50 year old building.” (Facebook)

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Original book to commemorate the Australian Embassy, 1969
Letters from the past

“A tangible sign of the vitality and the permanence of the Australian-American relationship”

Richard Nixon

President of the United States of America, 1969

The official book of the current Australian Embassy was unearthed from the Bates Smart library during the competition process last year. It contains two essays, one by US President Richard Nixon and the other by Australian Prime Minster Sir John Gorton.

"This is the road we journey along together. It is long, never-ending and often uphill. But the past we have shared in so many ways has inspired trust and affection between the people of Australia and of the United States. We face the future with a sure knowledge that these bonds will continue to strengthen in the years ahead."

J.G. Gorton, Prime Minister, 1969

Both essays talk about this new handsome building contributing to the attractiveness of Washington and being a tangible sign of the vitality and permanence of the Australian-American relationship. These texts pressed home the significance, tone, symbolism and gravitas of this commission.

View this fascinating commemorative book here

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Tom Bass

Bates Smart’s relationship with the renowned Australian sculptor Tom Bass spanned many projects including ICI House Sydney 1956, Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne 1956, and the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. 1969.

Tom Bass (1916-2010) worked on a number of prominent public sculptures in the 1950-60s, particularly in Sydney. In 1974, he established the Tom Bass Sculpture Studio, which is still in operation today and continues his legacy.

The incorporation of artwork within the 1960s Australian Embassy was initiated by then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, who wanted the design to extend beyond the functional requirements of a chancery.

Bass was commissioned to create a free-standing bronze sculpture depicting Australia’s coat of arms, which was to be located in the forecourt of the building.

The work is a notable example of Australian modernist sculpture of the 1960s and a significant public artwork. The sculpture provides a lineage to the past, not only for Bates Smart, but also for the Australian public.

The artwork will be relocated within the new embassy when it is finished.

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Our team combines award-winning specialists, many of whom we have successfully worked with before, as well as a range of local consultants in Washington DC.

Australian Team

Bates Smart - Architects / Interior Design

Aurecon - Structural / Services / Facades

Taylor Cullity Lethlean - Landscape Architects

Electrolight - Specialist Lighting

Chris Love Design - kitchen specialist

Fabio Ongarato Design - Graphics / Signage

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Wiles Mensch - Civil / Landscape / Surveyors

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Wells and Associates - Traffic

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Schnabel Engineering - Geotechnical

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