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Glass act tops US embassy design
By Li Xiaokun and Erik Nilsson (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-08-06 07:26


The new American embassy in Beijing will open on Friday during US President George W. Bush's visit to China. Inset: The embassy's front gate. Wang Jing

The media got a sneak peek of the new US embassy in Beijing yesterday.

It's the largest US embassy compound after the one in Baghdad, and will be officially opened by President George W. Bush on Friday, when he visits Beijing to attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Its opening comes just 10 days after China inaugurated its new embassy compound in Washington DC. The 23,000-sq-m glass and limestone compound, designed by the famous American Chinese architect Ieon Ming Pei and his two sons, is the largest embassy in the US.

The $434-million US embassy complex in Beijing is impressive too. It is spread over 10 acres and will accommodate 950 employees from 26 US government agencies.

It comprises five buildings: an eight-story main chancery, a three-story atrium, a Marines quarters, a consul office, and a parking, utility and ancillary security complex.

The chancery, the compound's "crowning jewel", is wrapped in an outer cover of glass - transparent, translucent and opaque - which hangs free of the main structure. The sheen of this glass "envelope" will change with the change in the sun's position. And at night, it will glow like a lantern.

A perimeter wall, with a 33-m-wide buffer of landscaped grounds extending up to the street, has been built to prevent attacks on the buildings from the roads outside. The perimeter wall in the front of the consular section is partly made of thick glass instead of concrete.

Chinese elements have been infused into the compound's design. The five buildings are linked by narrow hutong-like alleys, lined by bamboos. The compound's three main zones are joined together by gardens, courtyards and wooden bridges. And there is a lotus pond, too.

Workers yesterday were putting the final touches on a tent near the center of the compound, where the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on Friday.

Paved roads link the buildings so vehicles can reach any of them swiftly during any emergency, Project Architect John Holleran said.

US ambassador to China Clark Randt told reporters: "Our new embassy, together with the impressive new Chinese embassy in Washington are tangible symbols of the growth and importance of our bilateral relationship."

The new complex has been built to meet "unprecedented security requirements", he said. "This spectacular new embassy complex will provide the US government with a platform appropriate for the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century - the United States-China relationship."

"The building has met all the demands of the US State Department and counts as one of the best among all the modern office buildings around the world," the complex's project director William Prior said.

All materials used in the chancery were imported from the US. The engineers and workers who build the chancery were brought from the US, too. The rest of the complex was constructed by 1,500 Chinese workers and the landscaping stones were bought in China.

The embassy's minister-counselor for public diplomacy Don Washington said: "This will be a lot more fun than the opening of the embassy in Afghanistan", which Bush presided over in 2006.

"There will be entertainment, there will be ribbon-cutting, there will be a lot of things going on, and media are invited, so it won't be a secret ceremony. It will be a very festive occasion."

Guy Kivetz, political and press officer of the Israeli embassy in Beijing, a few hundred meters from the new US embassy, likes its "beautiful modern glass design". His only concern is the possibility of traffic congestion because the new compound is so "big".

Local shopkeeper Wu Ying said she has seen the embassy take shape over the past four years and is glad to see the "majestic building" completed.

"I've heard Bush will come to open the embassy I hope to get a glance of him on Friday morning," Wu said.

(China Daily 08/06/2008 page2)