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Construction of New Australian Embassy Building Slated to Start Soon on Scott Circle

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the September 2019 issue pdf

By P.L. Wolff

But, first the existing 50-year-old structure needs to be razed; that is set to get underway in November. Meanwhile the Ambassador and the staff has decamped for the next two years into the historic, original National Geographic Society building at 16th and M Streets, NW, which was vacant since NGS staff there had previously relocated into the large, mid-block addition behind its 1980s 16th Street headquarters building.

As detailed in the report of two years ago this month by the District’s Office of Planning (OP) submitted to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) sitting as the Foreign Missions BZA, the new embassy building will also accommodate its “consular services and accessory uses to the chancery, [*] including conference and meeting rooms. The contemporary architectural design would include façade materials in a palette of natural red-to-beige color tones with metal and natural timber and stone, characteristic of the Australian landscape. The interior would be made visible from the outside through the use of semi-transparent glazing. The public space would be enhanced with street plantings, seating and contemporary art pieces reflective of the Australian landscape and culture. The ingress and egress for the 82-space below grade parking garage would be relocated off the alley west of the site, and the existing curb cuts off Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street would be removed.”

While the new building, like the old, straddles both the Massachusetts Avenue and 16th Street Historic Districts, it is considered one that is “non-contributing” to the historic districts, and so exterior design standards are less rigorous than for “contributing” structures.

Nevertheless, embassy officials consulted closely with OP about the building’s proposed design being drawn up by the prestigious Australian architectural firm Bates Smart of Sydney and Melbourne. In so doing, as the report to the BZA recommending approval stated, this close consultation “ensur[ed] a general level of compatibility with the neighborhood context while providing a contemporary design vocabulary that expresses the Australian heritage and landscape. The historic preservation review also focused on ensuring that the public space design provides the required security for the building while relating well to the surrounding context. The proposal includes a high percentage of greenery, limited paving, and reestablishment of the double tree canopy on Massachusetts Avenue, which historically served to unify properties along the city’s avenues.”

[*Editor’s Note: More accurately, the term chancery refers to a court of equity in the American judicial system. The preferable word to use for a foreign diplomatic facility is chancellery, that term referring to official government offices and buildings.]