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ABK's Moscow embassy: 'Britain at its best'

Princess Anne was set to officially open ABK's new £81 million British Embassy in Moscow yesterday in front of an audience including foreign secretary Robin Cook. The architect says its objective has been to show 'Britain at its best', and the Foreign Office client added that it wanted 'modern and efficient' facilities to 'project to the Russian people an upto-date image of Britain today.' Both look to have succeeded.

The 21,200 m 2building is on a 0.92 ha site on the Smolenskaya Embankment of the Moscow River and comprises offices, reception rooms, residential accommodation for staff, and extensive facilities for them - tennis and squash courts, a swimming pool, a video library, a cafe, a semiprivate garden, a kindergarten and a medical centre. The last two facilities are also open for use by other embassies in the city. The site was offered to the Brits in the mid-1960s and exchanged for two sites in London through an agreement signed in March 1987. Design work started in 1992.

The embassy is in the form of four pavilions facing the river which are linked at roof and podium level and contain, says the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the best of British design, furniture and the visual arts. The pavilions are separated to maximise both views and light.

One of the pavilions, containing offices for 250 embassy staff, projects eastwards, bisecting the site and creating a garden on one side and a forecourt to Potochny Street on the other, where all the pedestrian and vehicular entrances are controlled from a guardhouse. A separate entrance has been provided for the visa section with an external covered queuing area, with another separate consular section. Another entrance still has been created for the residential accommodation - 31 flats and maisonettes in three buildings, all with views over the river. And an enclosed gallery links all the buildings on the site at podium level. The FCO says the reception/exhibition area, a multi-purpose hall and conference facilities will be used 'to project Britain commercially and culturally.'

The tennis court is built on the flat roof of the loading bay area for 13 embassy staff cars while a total of 107 cars can be parked on site.

The office building is mainly enclosed in a curtain wall of clear, translucent and opaque glazing, set back behind the encased steel structure. Other materials used include white enamelled steel panels, timber for the terraces to the maisonettes and for the roofs with copper edging, cedar sunscreens and concrete for the residential balconies.

Most of the 'non-basic' building materials were imported from the UK via Helsinki, as were labourers for the Chancery offices.

ABK's Richard Burton and Luke Hughes designed and made the furniture for the ambassador and minister's offices, with rugs by Lillian Lijn, Helen Yardley and Veedon Fleece. Artworks are featured from Tess Jaray, Michael Craig Martin, Norman Ackroyd and others, again showcasing British design.

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