British Embassy AlgiersEdit profile
The new British Embassy in Algiers, designed by John McAslan + Partners. It is the first embassy building to have been assessed using BREEAM criteria. It achieved an 'Excellent' rating, despite Algeria’s often extreme climatic conditions. The environmentally sensitive approach was embedded in architecture that drew on both historic local vernacular and contemporary modern design to create a building that clearly signalled the idea of an open cultural and commercial relationship between Britain and Algeria. The sandstone walls of the building enclose three architectural elements: the primary circulation space, offices that face the ambassador’s residence, and an external courtyard. From the garden, the massing of the three-storey building appears to be reduced because the ground floor is partly sunk into the topography. The first and second level floorplates step back in plan, delivering a building of 1,800m2 gross internal area on a tight footprint, “Because it was the first British Embassy building to be assessed using BREEAM protocols, the scheme’s development required a significant change in approach, in both the briefing and design processes. BREEAM covers a wide range of requirements including energy use, materials, transport plans and water use. Working with the FCO, we had to refine our design approaches, from the outset, in a way that would be buildable in Algiers and durable.` The new Embassy, engineered by Arup and built by MACE, is in the large garden of the neo-Moorish ambassador’s residence, and positioned to frame views towards the Bay of Algiers. “The arrangement allows both old and new to read coherently together,` explained Goode. “We’ve made reference to the English tradition of the grand house in a garden, but JMP’s in-house landscape team re-worked the setting with a series of curving, parallel walls that redefine the landscape and preview the arced internal spaces of the new building.` He said sustainability had been “fundamental to the design at every level, from the building’s orientation to reduce excessive solar gain, to the use of highly efficient lighting systems. The exposed concrete structure provides thermal mass to reduce peak-period cooling demands, and higher than usual floor-to-ceiling heights allows hot air to stratify, which meant we could then use a low-energy under-floor air conditioning system.` The office segment is open plan, and structured to allow easy internal reconfiguration. A green roof covers the building’s ground floor extension, and roof-mounted solar panels reduce the cost of water heating. Externally, JMP drew on traditional Algerian building techniques to express historic precedents, and help to shield the building from the sun. “We designed innovative 6m high twisted fins which provide shading to the glazing that faces the ambassador’s residence,` said Goode. “And on the outer façade, glazed slots in the stonework screen projects dramatic and constantly changing patterns of shadow and light on the fair-faced concrete inner facades.` It is the first time that this type of concrete has been used in Algeria, and Goode said that Mace and their local builders had done an excellent job. The end walls of the building are clad with timber slats, and will require little maintenance.