The architectural program for the French Embassy in Beijing was complex due to the building’s multi-functional nature and stringent security requirements. It called for the construction of the diplomatic residence, Chancellery and all diplomatic services, including the Consulate, on one and the same site. The key challenge of the project was to achieve coherency in a building that requires multiple and clearly distinct entryways; the embassy had to serve as both workplace and reception venue.
The architectural concept consisted of making all parts of the complex independent while connecting them underground. The end result provides a sharp contrast between exterior, where a mineral forecourt provides a transition to the street, and interior, constructed around a garden. The building, located in a new diplomatic neighbourhood between Beijing’s third and fourth beltways, is on a corner with its main façade rising up to the west and a second façade overlooking the boulevard to the south.
Thanks to the autonomous nature of Alain Sarfati’s architecture, the structure stands as an emblem of France while blending in harmoniously with the cityscape. The most important determining factor in the project was climate: a Beijing sky heavy with pollution, icy winds from the north that are often sand-laden, cold winters and very hot and humid summers. That is why a bioclimatic approach was adopted and used throughout the entire project. Respect for the environment governed the choice of building materials and their local provenance, mainly stone, wood and rubber.
Particular attention was paid to all woodwork and windows to ensure optimal airtightness and efficient solar protection. Orientation also came into play: the residence faces southward, allowing light to stream in during the winter months while in summer, sunshades and a gallery with silk-screening on its upper register provide a welcome respite from the sun. The northern façade of the building, draped in a silk-screened glass veil, is naturally ventilated in summer while in winter the upper and lower vents can be closed to offer insulation.
From south to west, the adjustable window shades provide an efficient screen from the sun during the hottest hours of the day. The French Embassy in Beijing brings together the wisdom of Feng Shui and the most sophisticated modern building techniques, placing architecture at the crossroads between East and West. The project opens up a new architectural perspective in synch with the local milieu, where culture and nature meet.