As the State Dept. tackles U.S. embassy construction needs around the world, it is moving ahead on a set of new priorities. The department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has launched a “design excellence” initiative, plans to build greener facilities and seeks to cut into a huge maintenance backlog. Industry firms will be watching for details of how OBO fleshes out its plans.


Adam E. Namm, OBO’s acting director, told an ENR/Construction Users Roundtable forum on June 16 the bureau has 33 facilities under way. That pace continues a wave of 72 projects completed over the past 10 years, up from 26 facilities finished in 1983-1998. To finance the building push, OBO has received annually about $1.4 billion in federal funds, a congressional response to the 1998 terrorist attacks in which 300 were killed at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

To quickly move along construction, OBO has turned to standard designs for many projects.

But that approach has sparked criticism. Namm says embassies “need to be secure facilities, and we’re not going to get away from that. But the standard embassy design needs some tweaking,” for architectural appearance and functional reasons.

OBO announced the design excellence plan and issued “guiding principles” in April. Some recommendations will be out by year’s end, says Namm.

Jeremy Isenberg, a senior principal with AECOM, says, “Obviously, protection of staff is paramount.” But he says technological advances can permit the State Dept. to modify designs and maintain safety. OBO’s design plan “just reveals growing confidence that we know how to do these things,” Isenberg says. OBO’s plans track many recommendations of a 2009 American Institute of Architects embassy-design task force report, says Barbara A. Nadel, a New York City architect who led the task force. The General Services Administration has had a design excellence program since the 1990s, but Nadel says the State Dept. program “will be tailored to the needs of OBO, which are very different from the needs of GSA.”

OBO has incorporated sustainability in its projects, aims to get greener and wants projects started this year to gain a Silver rating or better from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Maintenance is another priority. OBO’s first long-range maintenance plan, newly issued, pegs needs at $3.7 billion. But the 2010 maintenance budget is only $150 million, which leaves a wide gap to fill.

Projects in design or construction
Mumbai, India Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Surabaya, Indonesia Manila, Philippines
Abuja, Nigeria Bucharest, Romania
Suva, Fiji Kyiv, Ukraine
Karachi, Pakistan Taipei, Taiwan
Libreville, Gabon Monrovia, Liberia
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Guayaquil, Ecuador
Valletta, Malta Kabul, Afghanistan
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Niamey, Niger
Lusaka, Zambia Bujumbura, Burundi
Tijuana, Mexico Guangzhou, China
Riga, Latvia Dakar, Senegal
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Monterrey, Mexico
Djibouti, Djibouti Sanaa, Yemen
Bandar, Brunei Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
Caracas, Venezuela London, U.K.
Belgrade, Serbia