February 22, 2013

Invigorating the Nine Elms District

The new U.S. embassy in London has sparked a wave of urbanization in a gritty industrial zone on the South Bank, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A Diplomatic Breakthrough 
By Ruth Bloomfield 
Nine Elms, a neighborhood along the banks of London's River Thames, is an urban wasteland, scarred by railroad tracks and littered with idle factories and vacant parking lots. 
It's also an unlikely hot spot in London real estate right now, with some two dozen developers investing well over $15 billion in new hotels, offices, retail space and as many as 16,000 high-end homes.

The reason: The Americans are coming. 
Since the days of Neville Chamberlain, the U.S. Embassy in London has been in Grosvenor Square. Today, it's housed there in a Modernist block topped by a gilded bald eagle that's a landmark in the upscale Mayfair neighborhood. But rising fears about security have forced Washington to rethink the wisdom of stationing key personnel in a building with public sidewalks leading right to its front doors. 
And so, in 2008, the Americans announced their decision to leave the West End for a new, purpose-built block secured behind high perimeter walls. The site they chose was Nine Elms, a blighted wedge of the riverfront where the only living landmark is a drab wholesale-produce market that's off-limits to the public. 
Work on the $960 million embassy, a sugar-cube-like form designed by Philadelphia architecture firm Kieran Timberlake, is due to start this year, with an opening tentatively set for America's 241st birthday, July 4, 2017. 
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