White Cross, by Holl
Recently the new residence of the Swiss Ambassy Washington D.C. has opened its doors. The building has been designed by Steven Holl, in collaboration with the Swiss Rüssli Architects.
The design uses a twin iconography. The cruciform layout of the building is inspired by white cross of the Swiss flag. The materialization of the building – alternating textured charcoal-colored concrete and sandblasted glass – are meant to evoke the whites and blacks of the snow covered Alps. This latter metaphor is elaborated by the materialization of the garden: the icy glass melts into a placid pool, and the rocky concrete erodes into gravel. At night the opaque white walls reveal a variety of transparencies that Holl likens to melting ice.
“Fortunately, most embassy events occur at night when the building shines, but during the day the materials don’t hold up to the same level of beauty. The frosted glass tends to look like cheap Plexiglas from afar, while up close the textured concrete takes on the appearance of cheaply painted wood.”
“One’s procession through the building is deliberately forced on the diagonal. From the off-center doors, through the double height entry hall, and onto the terrace overlooking the Washington Monument, Holl eschews the formal ‘static’ symmetry of traditional civic buildings in favor of what he calls ‘dynamic symmetry.’” DCist
The layout of the building is echoed in a table in the form of a white cross. When will a model of a building being used as salon table?
Iconography derived from a national flag appeared earlier on Eikongraphia in the WFC skyscraper of Skidmore Owings & Merrill in Shanghai, and the design for the Toronto waterfront by West 8. The design by Holl seems a prefiguration of a Google Earth architecture – a form recognizable from space, just as the three palms and the World in Dubai, and the Egyptian Pyramids before it aim in bigger scale.