Not just a pretty façade

New embassy goes beyond brief using colour to create unique and subtle character

by Sian 03 October 2011
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    Vibrant colour and pattern are not visual qualities usually associated with embassy buildings, but this project demonstrates that this building type need not always be staid and conservative.

    The project is a new embassy compound for the US government in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. A modern embassy is a complicated building type in terms of functional requirements and both physical and technical security considerations. This design neatly resolves the programme brief in a 6,986 sq m facility and then goes well beyond by establishing a unique character through the bold use of exterior colour.

    The building façade colours and pattern language are deeply rooted in the local building heritage. Although this building currently sits alone in a new development district, it draws from a rich indigenous building and decorative arts tradition which is still very much evident in much of contemporary building design practice.

    The original design for this project was considerably tamer in its expression than that which is displayed in the final construction. A rendering of the original design was exhibited at the ground breaking ceremony, after which word got back to Washington, DC to the effect that senior representatives of the host country government had expressed disappointment with the meek colours and unadorned facades.

    With the blessing and encouragement of the US State Department's facilities group, the design architect immediately returned to the drawing board and created a series of revised façade designs for consideration.

    In a significant deviation from the tendency of government agencies to 'play it safe', the most aggressive scheme was selected for the basis of revised construction documents.

    The use of colour in this project is an effective way of meeting both a diplomatic and a cultural end. It is a powerful statement of respect for the local community and its culture, intended to create a cheerful, welcoming impression on all who experience this facility.

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