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BOOK

REVIEW

Designing the Warsaw Embassy: Tony Fretton Architects Navado Press, 2006.27.50 euros (£19)

The embassy has a curious genesis as a typology: a hermitcrab appropriation of nice villas in leafy urban quarters, it's defined by second-hand rather than purpose-built structures.

So it's appropriate that the Foreign Office called on Tony Fretton after seeing his Red House in Chelsea. Fretton can work with Classical solidity and decorum, while making buildings of radical intent which recall Judd or Flavin as much as Schinkel or Loos.

This is an odd little book on a yet-unbuilt project by an architect who shines in realising the object. Little of the struggle to find an architecture capable of expressing the embassy's mixed messages (security and solidity versus openness and accessibility, etc. ) comes through here in the office's rather dry text, but some of the complexity emerges in Adrian Forty's superb essay at the back.

This is serious architecture - clear in its intent and symbolism, in its language, and in the setting out (principally the separation of villa and office), which allows Fretton to explore the English tradition of hospitality in the ambassador's residence, and the symbolic and diplomatic role of the house as opposed to the institution.

Fretton has successfully struggled against Britain's descent into a banal corporate/ commercial aesthetic over the last two decades and the Foreign Office could not have made a more informed choice.

This amuse bouche leaves me hungry for the final object.

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