Embassy of Luxembourg, Beijing
Whereas most “East-meets-West” designs seek to highlight the contrasts between cultures, Luxembourg’s new diplomatic outpost in Beijing - a 700 square-meter space on the 17th floor of a modern tower complex – sought to emphasise cultural similarities.
Stepping into an embassy is mostly like stepping into another country, both aesthetically as well as legally. It’s a logical enough design approach, given an embassy’s essential purpose is to represent a country abroad. However, as demonstrated by the new Embassy of Luxembourg in Beijing located in Pacific Century Place, it’s not the sole possible approach.
Transitioning from old space to new
“Originally, the embassy and the ambassador’s residence were both located in a traditional courtyard compound. In many ways, this arrangement constrained what they could do in terms of public access, utility, security and privacy,” said Doris Wong, Director, Head of Office, M Moser, Beijing, who headed the project’s design team. Consequently, the Embassy decided to relocate to the modern Pacific Century Place tower complex.
But while the Embassy itself would move, the ambassador’s residence was to remain in place. “The desire was there to preserve and continue using this classical example of local architecture as a symbol of a ‘meeting of cultures’ between China and Luxembourg.” said Wong. Unusually, the client had a similar cross-cultural goal in mind for its new embassy. The final result would be a compelling departure from the standard lexicon of ‘diplomatic design’.
Planning for diverse purposes
For the M Moser team, it was space planning rather than design that represented the project’s first major challenge. As well as supporting activities as diverse as issuing visas, hosting press and diplomatic functions, and facilitating a range of discussions, the design had to meet stringent security requirements. “Understandably, they felt that after we worked out the plan, the aesthetics could easily follow,” said Wong.
The final plan is a sophisticated mix of enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces arranged on a floor plate shaped like an elongated “L”. As the designers realised, the “aesthetic” element of the project would play a vital role in preventing the space’s “cellularised” character from becoming claustrophobic.
“Fortunately, the need to create that engaging atmosphere of openness and vitality chimed in easily with the client’s wish to represent a China-Luxembourg ‘cultural fusion’,” said Wong. “The basic palette of evocative but simple architectural forms, natural local materials and light colours lent itself to striking the balance we wanted.”
The embassy achieves a simple elegance that belies the complexity of its purpose. The first space visitors encounter is a foyer whose gently curved white wall, concealed lighting and light-coloured bamboo floor provide a foretaste of some of the space’s design hallmarks.
From the foyer, guests proceed to either a visa section or to the more private “business” section. In the embassy’s wide corridor, the palette of simple white walls, bamboo floors and doors is elaborated further by a series of inverted “L” shape timber posts reminiscent of covered walkways used in traditional Chinese architecture.
Guests who proceed to the business section’s waiting area and lounge are catered for with custom-designed armchairs whose flared half-barrel shape echo that of split bamboo. Enlivening the space’s expanse of white wall is a barcode-like composition of slim vertical embrasures inside which booklets and other printed matter are stored.
Small meeting rooms await more private discussions. When visual privacy is required, a flip of a switch transforms the glazing from transparent to milky-opaque.
Located further along is a large conference room, partly walled in a rough slate evocative of typical European architecture.
But the most striking aspect of this design is not its individual details, but the sum of what they represent. Whereas most “East-meets-West” designs seek to highlight contrasts between cultures, this one – through its seamless blend of traditional Chinese and Western ideas – expresses cultural similarities. A very diplomatic solution indeed.
- Area 7,534 sq-ft
- Completion date 2010
- Location Beijing