Swiss Ambassador’s Residence
by William Lebovich
The most unusual buildings in the U.S. capital city are often those erected by foreign governments for their embassies. Some are insipid interpretations of a country's architectural traditions. Others are inspired efforts to combine the best of a country's past architecture with cutting-edge trends.
The new Swiss Ambassador's residence by Steven Holl Architects and Rüssli Architekten AG is in the latter category. I believe it is, despite some misdirection, among the most exciting and intellectually invigorating buildings in Washington, DC.
The exterior is composed of horizontally striated charcoal-colored concrete walls adjoining vertically striated, etched, glacier-like glass walls. The visual effect is stunning and truly bone-chilling.
Tribute to Two Landscapes
This theme originates from Holl's recollection of his first visit to Switzerland in 1970, when he was struck by an "inspiring view of charcoal-stone mountain faces in contrast with white ice and snow." The Swiss landscape theme is exquisitely expressed in the alternating walls of concrete and glass in the ambassador's residence and the adjacent garage/ caretaker's house.
The design process was a collaboration between Holl and his former apprentice, Swiss architect Justin Rüssli. Holl recalls: "I provided the conceptual intuitive beginning... while Justin had all of the elements of the program in mind to be analyzed against the initial inspirations." Rüssli worked closely with Holl over the Internet to ensure that the interrelated functions within the scheme were fully developed.
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