U.S. Embassy
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Embassy in Beijing is the second-largest ever constructed by the U.S. Dept. of State.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing opened on Aug. 8. The dedication was timed to coincide with the commencement of the 2008 Olympic Games. The 500,000-sq-ft complex, which accommodates 600 employees in five buildings, is the second-largest embassy constructed in U.S. history.

Construction of the five-building complex, designed by the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLC, began on Feb. 10, 2004, under the direction of the Zachry Caddell Joint Venture, San Antonio.

The complex sits on a 10-acre site in Beijing's third diplomatic area in the Liang Ma He neighborhood. The buildings are separated from each other but linked by both indoor and outdoor paths. The spaces between buildings are organized as a series of outdoor rooms, courtyards, gardens and landscaped areas.

Each building has discrete functions. The buildings, ranging in height from two to eight stories, include an eight-story main chancery, a three-story office building, a consular building, a marine security guard quarters and recreation building, and a parking structure.

The arrangement of the buildings and the features of the landscape are based on ancient Chinese planning principles. Landscape architect Peter Walker and Associates, Berkeley, Calif., collaborated closely with SOM on gardens and courtyards throughout the complex. SOM's services included architecture, structural engineering, mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineering, interior design and environmental graphics.

"The most significant challenge and ultimately the inspiration was symbolism and physical place," says Craig W. Hartman, SOM's design partner on the project, in a press release. "As a sovereign U.S. presence on Chinese soil, it seemed especially important that our embassy's architecture reflect our cultural, social and political values while being respectful of China, a country with an ancient and extraordinarily rich culture."

Much of the labor was provided by Chinese subcontractors. Building materials are of both American and Chinese origin. The complex's planning and construction process was concurrent with planning for a new Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., says the U.S. State Dept.

Former President George H. W. Bush, speaking at the opening ceremony he attended with his son, President George W. Bush, noted the changes that Beijing has undergone since his first visit 34 years ago. He said, "I feel the same sense of awe standing here to behold the transformation that our beloved embassy complex has undergone here.

"Barbara and I always welcome the chance we have to come back to China. In fact, I think this is my 19th or 20th visit since I left the presidency, since leaving the White House. But to be here at this special time, special time in China's history, to be back in the embassy where I was proud to have served, and to be here with the members of Bush family who share our love for China and its people, is particularly gratifying, particularly moving for me.

"In the 34 years since I first came to China, change has been one of the constants. Peking is now Beijing. The bicycles that used to dominate the roads have given way to more cars. And then when you come to this magnificent 'Bird's Nest,' the National Stadium, and the other architectural features that now dominate the landscape here, there can be no question that China has achieved something truly special in readying itself to host these Games. It is just simply remarkable."

Others at the ribbon cutting were U.S. Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt, Jr., and China's Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo.