(AP) LONDON — It will be a fortress, but there's not a fence in sight.
U.S. officials announced Tuesday that a light-filled cube by Philadelphia-based architecture firm Kieran Timberlake has won the competition to design the United States' high-security new embassy in London – billed as the greenest and one of the most expensive U.S. diplomatic buildings in the world.
Kieran Timberlake was chosen over three other American architectural firms for its design of a 12-story building surrounded by natural defenses of meadow, woodland and a pond.
The U.S. is selling its long-standing diplomatic home in central London's Mayfair district and moving to a building in less glamorous surroundings south of the River Thames.
James Timberlake, a partner in the winning firm, said the building was designed to be "open and welcoming, a beacon of democracy."
"It is a crystal form that is light filled and light-emitting," he said – a far cry from the grim concrete boxes that house many U.S. diplomatic missions.
Timberlake said the landscape around the building would defend it like the moat of a castle.
"We were able to use the landscape as a security device," he said.
Adam Namm, acting director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said the building would cost about $1 billion – "in the ballpark of the most expensive embassies we have built."
PHOTOS COURTESY OF KIERANTIMBERLAKE
Timberlake said the 500,000-square foot (45,000-square meter) building will also be one of the greenest. Its exterior is to be lined with energy-absorbing material, the roof is covered with solar panels, and the building will collect and store London's plentiful rainfall to be self-sufficient in water.
"Let me put it this way – it's beyond carbon neutral," Timberlake said.
Kieran Timberlake's work includes the Atwater Commons residence building at Middlebury College in Vermont and the Sculpture Building at Yale University. It prides itself on creating sustainable buildings and it is a pioneer of prefabricated techniques.
Officials said construction of the new embassy is due to start in 2013, with the building completed by 2017.
The State Department has vastly increased security at U.S. embassies around the world since the 1998 bombings of the U.S. missions in Kenya and Tanzania, and has often been criticized for sacrificing style for safety with bland, fortress-like buildings.
By law, the lead designer for U.S. embassies must be an American firm with necessary security clearances, but it is allowed to bring in local partners.
Last year the State Department announced a deal to sell the current embassy, a concrete-and-glass building by modernist architect Eero Saarinen, to a property investment company owned by the government of Qatar.
The move will end an American presence on London's Grosvenor Square that goes back to the late 18th century, when future president John Adams was the first U.S. envoy to England. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had his headquarters on the square during World War II, when the area became known as "Little America."
It will also mean a stark change in surroundings for the London embassy's 1,000 staff. The current building is around the corner from designer boutiques and expensive restaurants.
The new location is in the Nine Elms area of Wandsworth, a district in transition from industrial dereliction to – developers hope – prosperous modernity. The new embassy's current neighbors include railway lines, public housing projects, a fruit-and-vegetable market and the derelict Battersea Power station.