Friday 12 January 2018 9:53 am

Five things you should know about the new US embassy in "off location" Nine Elms

Donald Trump may not be impressed with London's new US embassy building in Nine Elms – but the new £800m site has been in the works for a decade, and is one of the world's safest buildings.

Trump was due to cut the ribbon at the embassy at the beginning of next month, but he is now likely to be replaced by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson after this tweet:


Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018


But why is the US moving its embassy to Nine Elms in the first place, and what makes it so special? Here's what you need to know about the new building.

1. It isn't Obama's fault

Trump's tweet accused Barrack Obama of building the new embassy in an "off location" – but his timing isn't quite right. The first reports of the embassy's plans to move to "an industrial estate" in South London emerged in 2008, during George W. Bush's Presidency. At the time, then-ambassador Robert Tuttle told the Telegraph the move was due to security fears: "The goal of a modern, secure and environmentally sustainable embassy [will] be best met by constructing a new facility," he said.

2. That freehold rumour

Trump also criticised the Obama administration of selling the current site for "peanuts". "Bad deal," he added.

Although we don't know how much the current site was sold for when it was flogged to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund in 2009, experts estimated it was worth as much as £500m – but that was before it was given its Grade II listing.

The current site is also the one of the few US embassies in the world to which the US does not own the freehold. A report by the LA Times in the 1980s suggested back in the 1940s, the second Duke of Westminster, whose Grosvenor Estate owns the freehold, was asked to hand it over to the US government. He responded by insisting he would only give it up if the US returned 1,200 acres of prime Florida real estate which had been confiscated after US independence. It politely declined.

3. The current embassy is full to bursting

Although the move to the new embassy will mark a break from tradition dating back two centuries, there's a good reason it had to move: the place had reached its 800-strong capacity. At 518,000 sq ft, the new building is twice as big as its current iteration.

4. The reason the new embassy has a moat

At $1.2bn (£880m), the new embassy is thought to be one of the most expensive in the world – but it is also one of the most secure buildings in the capital: it is essentially a giant, glass bunker. The design, by US-based architects KieranTimberlake, includes a moat deep enough to stop a truck, while a deep ditch around the rest of the building prevents access. Meanwhile, the 15cm thick, bomb-proof glass facade is covered with plastic sails to reduce solar glare, while bollards are hidden inside a vast hedge.

One of the security requirements was that the building had to be at least 100ft from its neighbours – hence the move to Nine Elms, one of the few places in London with that much space.

5. Internal landscaping

The new building also has a cuddly side. Internal gardens reflect areas of the US, with themes such as canyons, a Pacific forest and wildflower meadows. In fact, the entire building is designed to be green, with the roof and moat catching rainwater to use as loo flushes, and a solar array on the roof to produce electricity.