International Architecture Awards Tell a friend

International Architecture Awards ARCHIVE 2023 International Architecture Awards
Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation, Washington, D.C., USA | 2021
  • Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation, Washington, D.C., USA | 2021
  • Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation, Washington, D.C., USA | 2021
  • Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation, Washington, D.C., USA | 2021
Royal Norwegian Embassy Renovation, Washington, D.C., USA | 2021

Architects: Fentress Architects
Lead Architect: Curtis Fentress
General Contractor: Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Client: Statsbygg
Photographers: Alan Karchmer, OTTO

The renovation and addition to the Royal Norwegian Embassy provides a sustainable, functional, and accessible 21st-century office environment for foreign diplomats and staff, imbued with the values of Handlekraft (vigor), Arbeidsglede (joy of work), Profesjonalitet (professionalism), and Åpenhet (openness). Starting with the 1933 Italianate Ambassador’s Residence, the Embassy in the 1970s added a two-story limestone-clad Chancery, with basement parking, offices, and diplomats’ apartments.

Forty years later, both building systems and functionality were in acute need of upgrades. A 2016 workplace satisfaction survey among Embassy employees revealed dissatisfaction with the environment as a place to work; a sense of community at work; and a place to be proud to bring visitors to. Staff was also strongly negative about the impact the workplace had on workplace culture, corporate image, and environmental stability. In addition to addressing the lack of space and employee dissatisfaction the project had to resolve issues of accessibility, security, and overall upgrades and modernization to building systems, furniture, and finishes, as well as communicate physical and symbolic openness and transparency while maintaining the requisite levels of security.

The final design captured underutilized courtyard spaces to add 3,500 square feet to the Embassy while retaining 90% of the earlier structure and enclosure. Residential scale and overall massing were maintained, and a restrained palette of copper, wood, stone and glass creates a dignified yet distinguished street presence on Embassy Row. Lowering the entrance to the street level provides accessibility and welcoming transparency. Behind the original garden wall, the signature, copper-clad Atlantic Ocean Hall - a 2,230-square-foot ceremonial and function space - connects Chancery to Residence. The new copper roofs recall Norway’s gift of copper for the Statue of Liberty. The mansard form fits with the neighborhood and gives the Atlantic Ocean Hall its distinctive shape.

Norway’s enduring shipbuilding and woodworking traditions are reflected in the interior finishes and the mass timber structure of the Hall. This year-round, indoor-outdoor space has already hosted climate-focused presentations and events, and “turns diplomats and visitors into tree huggers,” says the owner. The Embassy is laid out around two major sky-lit, double-story spaces – the entrance lobby in the public zone, and the Social Hub in the office zone; with transparency connecting the various spaces and levels. Staircases are prominently featured: the open lobby stair is easily accessible to all occupants upon entry from the street; another stair activates the Social Hub and promotes socializing and collegiality among staff. Improvements in thermal performance, daylighting, and comfort; coupled with careful material choices and judicious re-use of the building contributed to the project achieving LEED Gold certification. Architecture can play a profound role in the diplomatic environment.

The renovated Embassy promotes health, well-being, openness, transparency, craft, dignity, and respect; first for their diplomats and staff, for their guests, and ultimately has the power to shape diplomatic relationships in the future. "This modernized embassy was carefully designed to help us engage in dialogues, entertain new ideas, and solidify the trans-Atlantic work of generations past, present, and future. It is a testament to the shared history and to the same time forward-looking,” states HRH Crown Prince Haakon.