That the Iranian authorities have commissioned an architect of some skill is to be welcomed. To propose a robust contemporary design for an important corner site, left vacant for so long, is also to be welcomed. That it should be an important civic building such as an embassy must surely present the opportunity of a building expressing architectural generosity and townscape stature.
An architecture perhaps that can be seen in harmony with its surroundings, representing that nations wish, to communicate and dispel the belief that it applies the tactics of a stubborn bully.
Well I don't believe it is so far from achieving these aims, but it is not yet acceptable in townscape terms or in respect of heritage areas. As well as being Chairman of WAN, I am also a heritage and townscape consultant and I would say that more work is required on a number of fronts. First, attention needs to be given to the setting of the Grade 2* listed Church of St Augustine designed by Sir William Butterfield and the adjacent Grade 2 listed Vicary. Efforts have already been made here by leaning the building to one side but the lean has become 'mean'! by also being transferred to the corner gesture. This sets up an aggressive appearance combined with the visually unsupported over- cantilevered upper floor. While I can accept the idea of a visually separate and apparently accessible visitor centre commanding the corner, the cantilever 'threatens' it with its weighty looks.
There is also a discomforting set of spaces at this point, which are inaccessible and unknowable to the passing public whose intention it may be to use the visitor centre. Bright lights and diagonal lines don't fit well into Kensington's historic streets but the use of a white stone surface and well composed fenestration is promising.
But I do think it’s probably necessary to go back to the 'drawing board' for some further design development along the lines of my suggestions.
Richard Coleman of Citydesigner, London and of WAN
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