Designs on a new era

The embassies of four EU countries are either improving or replacing their premises. At the dawning of a new era, European foreign offices have also been reconsidering the aesthetic message their embassies convey in Warsaw

On ul. Piękna, the French Embassy is being refurbished, by French firm RD bud, and this should be complete in September this year. Three years ago they moved part of their representation to 1,500 sqm of space at the Europlex mixed use centre on Puławska, as a temporary measure until the facelift was complete. This will be vacated in summer 2004.
Near the serene setting of Łazienki park on ul. Kawalerii, construction of a new Dutch embassy is drawing to a close and should be ready to start functioning in mid-October this year. According to the embassy's First Secretary Jeroen Boender, the fact of Poland's entry to the EU has very much influenced the decision to change address. "The current embassy is too small," he says, as "relations between the two countries are developing in all respects". The Dutch have indeed needed bigger space since Poland joined NATO, which meant expanding the embassy's defence department.
The new embassy's highly detailed, modernist design by Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat, a departure from the norm in Warsaw, also very much symbolizes the new era Poland's impending entry into the EU has heralded. It was also influenced by the work of the seventeenth century Dutch architect Tylman van Gamerman, who designed around sixty buildings in Poland, including one in the vicinity of the new embassy. "The idea was to build an embassy which was a showcase of Dutch architecture," says Boender "and one which was special for the Polish market." It will also be situated in an area that the city authorities have identified as a site for the future development of embassies. Indeed the South Koreans are also building one there at the moment. That the general contractor is Budimex, a Polish firm, is also suggestive of closer ties between the two countries. "Other embassies tend to use companies from their own countries," says Boender.

Office or build to suit?
According to Monika Bukowska of Cushman & Wakefield H&B's European Research Group in London, though "embassies are perceived as good tenants" by office building landlords in Poland, "it is more common for them to buy property and most embassies in Warsaw have been purchased outright by the representative country." Exceptions to this tendency, apart from the French, have been for example, the Japanese in Atrium Business Centre and the Australians in the building located at ul. Nowogrodzka 11. As far as EU embassies are concerned however, the British and Germans have just announced new premises to be delivered in the next two to three years.
"There has been a pick up on the market over the last half year and we expect this continue in the run up to accession," says Monika Bukowska.

New, humane embassy
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced in May that it had selected the London-based Tony Fretton Architects to design a new embassy and ambassador's residence, to be built where the current residence is on ul. Bagatela. The need for new premises for the embassy has come about because the leases for the two buildings it currently uses: the main one on Aleja Róż and the Consular, Commercial and Visa sections at Warsaw Corporate Centre, are about to expire and the representation is keen to house its various activities under one roof. Poland joining the EU is a happy coincidence, as an expanded British diplomatic presence is expected in the coming years.
"The new building will be a modern, functioning, good-looking embassy, that will be with us in Warsaw for the next twenty five to thirty years," says an embassy spokesman. "Clearly the building here [on Aleje Róż] is not that."
'We have deliberately gone for architects who are more up and coming than established firms and who clearly thought through the implications of what we were looking for," says the spokesman. Though the events of September 11th 2001 have heightened most western embassies' concern for security, the British representation was eager that the new building should not be presented as a fortress. "This project will allow us to have the security but also a decent-looking fauade," adds the embassy spokesman.
The building's architect, Tony Fretton, for whom the project is his biggest commission to date, believes that his design represents an open, cultural and generous spirit. "It's a piece that's very restrained and fits in with the townscape of the area. We've introduced an alignment with the Swedish Embassy," [which is next door] he says. "What we are aiming to do is produce a building which is very carefully-scaled in relation to that part of the city," he continues. "In a sense, it's more humane than radical."
The tender for construction of the building will be held in March 2004 and should be ready for embassy staff by 2006. The competition will be open to Polish-based construction firms.

Long overdue
Rolf Ankermann, Administrator at the German Embassy, insists that the decision his representation has made to construct a new building, to consist of the embassy's offices, the consulate and the ambassador's residence, is not related to Poland's entry to the EU and that they've been "trying for a couple of years" to get the project going. They've had the land set aside for all that time but "budgetary problems" have enforced the delay. Now, says Ankermann, "the need has become even more urgent" as the embassy currently works from seven different buildings. The new, three-story building, of 12,200 sqm, will accommodate all the embassy's staff and will be built where the present consular, commercial and visa sections are situated on ul Jazdów. This building will be demolished.
Berlin architect Holger Klein was successful in his bid to design the building, which will emphasise the concepts of elegance and tranquility and the changing character of German-Polish relations. The tender for construction will be held later this year and work on the building will either begin the middle of 2004 or towards the beginning of 2005, (in order to avoid the winter). It will be complete in 2006.