The perimeter security industry has boomed in the United Kingdom since 2007, when terrorists succeeded in driving a truck loaded with propane canisters straight through the glass doors of Glasgow Airport, setting the terminal ablaze.
Two unexploded car bombs were discovered in London the same week.
To the south, the site is edged with another seating wall—benches affixed to a thick slab of truck-impeding concrete—behind which the landscape rises in a defensive berm, a.k.a.
a “meadow” with the “sense of expansion characteristic of the rolling American plains.” As the cross section in the planning application shows, a third of the way along this mound the ground plummets into a steep ditch.
With the sale of Saarinen’s building to the property development arm of the Qatari royal family (which has hired David Chipperfield Architects to convert it into a luxury hotel), funds were used to acquire a former rail-yard site south of the river, close to Battersea Power Station.
It was the equivalent of moving from Park Avenue to New Jersey, but it gave US authorities carte blanche to create a new piece of city planned entirely around their security needs, of a scale and level of control that London has never seen.
It is labeled as a “bioswale” for environmental purposes, but it just so happens to be conveniently scaled so as to trap any kind of moving vehicle that might try to make a break across the meadow.
It is a traditional British ha-ha, originally used to keep animals off the lawns of country houses, updated for 21st-century security needs.
One local resident, a Russian countess named Anca Vidaeff, staged a hunger strike, while the neighborhood association took out two-page advertisements in the Washington Post and the Times of London to protest against the embassy’s presence.
Regardless, a million security upgrade in 2007 saw the building surrounded with a plethora of raised concrete flower beds, six-foot-high blast walls, guard shacks, and traffic-blocking structures, transforming genteel Grosvenor Square into a militarized scene worthy of Baghdad.