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It’s not often an embassy building gets torn down and built anew in Washington, D.C. Many of the notable buildings on Embassy Row along Massachusetts Avenue are listed in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites. Just where Massachusetts Avenue meets Scott Circle, at the eastern boundary of that historic district, on the site of the original Australian Embassy, a new building marks Australia’s diplomatic presence in the United States capital.

Australian Embassy in DC.

The new building is located within Embassy Row along Massachusetts Avenue at Scott Circle. Photo © Joe Fletcher

Australian firm Bates Smart (formerly Bates Smart and McCutcheon), architect of the original embassy building that was completed in 1969—deemed beyond its useful life—was once again hired to define that presence, along with local firm KCCT. (And the same Virginia-based contractor, Clark Construction, was engaged to build it.) Early on, the decision was made to stay on the central site rather than move farther north in the city, as some embassy and consulate buildings have done recently. “We’re just blocks from the White House,” deputy chief of mission Paul Myler said on a recent tour of the new space attended by RECORD editors.

Australian Embassy in DC.
Australian Embassy in DC.

Facade detail (1); Bull, a large outdoor sculpture by artist Callum Morton (2). Photos © Joe Fletcher

The six-story structure features a glass- and copper-clad envelope whose color and striations are meant to evoke Uluru, or Ayers Rock, a sandstone monolith in the Australian Outback that is one of the country’s most recognizable natural landmarks.

The design discreetly integrates security to foster a feeling of welcome and transparency. “To fence or not to fence was a big question,” recalled Sam Rossato, relocation manager for the Australian Embassy, on the tour. Foregoing said fence, the building instead incorporates an anti-ram wall and bollards, and a ballistic- and blast-rated facade. But visitors will instead notice the gentle waterfall by the entrance and lightwell into a below-grade level.

Australian Embassy in DC.

The soaring atrium hosts a range of events. Photos © Joe Fletcher

Once inside, a large, full-height, skylit atrium takes center stage, creating an open ground plane and allowing guests to see through the building to the landscaped exterior and three large outdoor sculptures. Lined with vertical timber battens made from Tasmanian blackwood and eucalyptus panels backed by a perforated acoustic baffle, the atrium has hosted everything from dignitaries to concerts and a barbeque since the embassy opened in August 2023. On the floors above, timber batten-lined staff break rooms, connected to each other with a series of open staircases, overlook this daylit space.

Australian Embassy in DC.
Australian Embassy in DC.

Australian Embassy in DC.

Interior detail, including open staircases (3,5) and timber batten-lined walls (4). Photos © Joe Fletcher

The 220,000-square-foot building houses approximately 300 employees across a range of departments. A key feature of the new embassy is the display of Australian furniture and art—with an emphasis on First Nations artists. The outdoor sculptures are among six new site-specific works, which also find their way into the atrium. 

Topping the building is a green roof and apiary, which the embassy estimates is home to approximately 240,000 bees!