Chicago Architecture Foundation

224 South Michigan Ave

United States

Our Buildings as Ambassadors: U.S. Dept. of State’s New Design Excellence Initiative

Thursday, October 18, 6 pm-  7:30 pm

How do the overseas buildings of the United States represent our country and serve the needs of those working in them? Can our buildings exemplify design excellence without sacrificing security and adhering to cost considerations? Casey Jones and Lydia Muniz from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. will explain how the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations addresses these goals. Eric Keune, AIA, from SOM will present his firm’s new U.S. embassy in Beijing as a case study.

After more than a decade of prototypical architecture resulting from the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa, the Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has changed the way it approaches diplomatic facilities.  In this new era, the Department believes that our buildings should represent the American character – its dignity and stability, and openness and innovation.  OBO is employing a more tailored approach to site selection, architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and engineering.

To achieve this goal, OBO is restructuring itself to elevate the importance of design without sacrificing security, budget, or schedule. The entire building process has been reviewed — site selection, planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance — to consciously place a heightened emphasis on design and construction quality, compatibility with the local environment, and consideration for our national image in each location. With more than 270 diplomatic missions around the world, it’s essential that each appropriately represent the presence of America, its values, influence, and the aspirations of its people.

In advance of this transition, Skidmore, Owings, Merrill LLP designed a new U.S. Embassy that emphasized environmental sustainability and an open, gracious, civic face of the United States for the city of Beijing. The embassy is a multi-building campus punctuated by gardens and art that reflects our cultural, social, and political values while respecting the ancient and vibrant culture of our host nation.


Lydia Muniz, Director, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, U.S. Department of State

Casey L. Jones, Director, Design Excellence, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, U.S. Department of State

Eric Keune, AIA, Design Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Lydia Muniz was appointed Director of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) in June 2012. Prior to this appointment, she served the organization as Principal Deputy Director. Her prior federal service includes positions as Deputy Director of the Department of Media Affairs in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina; Special Assistant for Policy in the Office of the Secretary of the Army; Legislative Assistant in the Office of Legislative Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget; and office manager for the Honorable Leon E. Panetta in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lydia was previously with New York University where she served in a number of positions, including Associate Vice President in the Office of Strategic International and Business Projects and Associate Vice President for the Division of Campus Planning, Design and Real Estate.

Architect Casey Jones joined the Department of State in January 2012, to assisting the Department in the creation of a design excellence program, restructuring the agency’s policies and procedures to ensure better, more enduring buildings. Prior to federal service, he was the associate director of the Van Alen Institute and a fellow of the Design Trust for Public Space, where he co-authored “Reclaiming the High Line,” the programming study that led to the new park on Manhattan’s West Side. He is a former principal in the design consulting firm of jones|kroloff, where he directed the History Channel’s two-year “City of the Future” competition; worked with Global Green and Brad Pitt on sustainable housing for post-Katrina New Orleans; and assisted numerous institutions in crafting or strengthening their own design programs.

Eric Keune is the Senior Designer of the recently completed embassy in Beijing, the second-largest embassy constructed by the United States, and has continued working for the State Department in designing a new U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, as well as an addition to the Embassy in Beijing. Since joining SOM in 1998, Eric’s work has included the Jinling Tower; North American Headquarters and a Design Center for Kia Motors in Irvine, CA; and Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, CA. Eric has held a variety of teaching positions, and is involved in ongoing historical research.

This event is sponsored by AIA Chicago, Chicago Architecture Foundation, and U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations

Learning units: 1 LU

Location: Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 South Michigan Avenue, John Buck Lecture Hall

Member price: 0   Non-member price: 0


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