Now and when? Iran's contentious new UK embassy

In an expensive corner of southwest London sits an unsightly if well-used car park, whose redevelopment is causing far more problems than it should. Iran would like to build a new embassy on the corner of Queen's Gate and Harrington Road in South Kensington, but the locals aren't convinced it's such a good idea.

Their many objections boil down to the aesthetic, pecuniary or political: they don’t want a modernist structure alongside the rather nice, listed Church of St Augustine, they worry that it might bring down the value of their house, or they just don’t like the idea of having the Iranians on their doorstep.

Iranian architect Armin Mohsen Daneshgar of Vienna-based Daneshgar Architects has designed a six-storey embassy with an attached cultural centre. It’s a striking, angular affair, with irregular windows and a cantilevered upper section which floats above the culture centre.

Here’s some photos of what’s there at the moment and what’s planned:


Now, you may or may not like the look of the building – Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the National Trust, thinks it “totally inappropriate” while Paul Finch of the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment calls it “surprising and refreshing” – but either way it’s surely better than an unkempt car park surrounded by a fence of ugly blue boards.

Iranian diplomats have had a troubled history in London – in 1980 their embassy was stormed by SAS troops – but there’s little reason to believe their UK office would cause nearby house prices to dip nowadays. People in the area are used to all sorts of neighbours – along the same street is the Yemen Embassy and the offices of the Iraqi Cultural Attaché and the Saudi Military Attaché. Interesting neighbours all. The Saudis keep their building in good shape, but the Yemeni and Iraqi offices are pretty shabby.

The Iranian application was submitted in January and the public consultation process closed on 2 July. A decision had been due by tomorrow (25 August) but is now not expected before October or November.

Iran might hope the embassy would give it the opportunity to rebuild its image in the UK, but it could simply fall victim to people's existing negative perceptions.

Local residents are begging Prince Charles to intervene to stop the whole damn thing, in much the same way that he did with the Chelsea Barracks development – the difference there of course was that he could just phone up his fellow royals in Doha. You can only assume that his contacts with Ahmadinejad are just a little bit cooler.

More links:

For more forthright opinions from the public take a look at some of the comments at the bottom of this London Evening Standard story or this Daily Mail one. Alternatively, Richard Coleman of World Architecture News provides some more thoughtful criticism of the design.

To see the application itself click here on the Kensington & Chelsea council site.