AKA: US Chancery, Lisbon, Portugal

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - embassies

Designers: Bassetti, Fred, and Company (firm); Haag, Richard, Associates, Incorporated, Site Planners, Landscape Architects (firm); Wood and Associates, Engineers (firm); Frederick Forde Bassetti (architect); George Dickson (electrical engineer); Richard Haag (landscape architect); John Christopher Kirk (architect); Richard B. Metler (architect); Paul Weidlinger (structural engineer); Stephen Wood (mechanical engineer)

Dates: constructed 1980-1983

3 stories

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1600-081 Avenida das Forças Armadas
Lisbon, Portugal

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Along with Fred Bassetti, Christopher Kirk and Richard Metler were the lead designers on the US Embassy in Portugal. (See email from Christopher Kirk to the author, 08/26/2022.) Conceptual work began on the embassy in 1978, with construction starting in the Fall of 1980. The project was completed by 06/1983.

Building History

The United States has maintained an embassy in Portugal since 1944. Before that time, the State Department supported a legation in Portugal, supervised by an envoy rather than an ambassador.

Designed by the Seattle architectural firm of Fred Bassetti and Company, Architects, the embassy occupied an 11-acre, hilltop site in the Sete Rios neighborhood looking north toward the Jardim Zoológico and the Hospital de Santa Maria. Bassetti and Company created a design of several conjoined pavilions of varying heights, each topped by red-tile hipped roofs. The building's exterior expressed the reinforced concrete grid supporting it, with spaces between the supports filled with white plaster squares.

As noted by the Seattle Times real estate columnist, Polly Lane, the construction team included: "The Bassetti design ream includes Dick Metler and Chris Kirk of his staff; Stephen Wood, mechanical engineer, and George Dickson, electrical engineer, both of the Seattle firm of Wood & Associates; Richard Haag & Associates, Seattle landscape architect, and Paul Weidlinger & Associates, New York, structural engineer.” She indicated that the project had a $8 million budget and groundbreaking was to occur in late 09/1979.(See Polly Lane, Seattle Sunday Times, “Design challenge: United States Embassy in Lisbon, 09/02/1979, Real Estate Section, p. K5.)This team worked with the Portuguese general contractor,Ilídio Monteiro.

One of the Embassy's lead designers, Christopher Kirk (born 1948), has written about its construction process: "Our involvement during construction was limited by our distance from the site, which was typical for FBO [US Office of Foreign Buildings Operations] projects. Normally architects and contractors work closely together during construction, often communicating on a daily basis. In contrast, FBO did not retain architects for traditional construction-phase services. The ball was handed off to the contractors on another continent, and they proceeded to build without our direct involvement or oversight. There was a nine-hour time difference between Seattle and Lisbon, and there was no internet nor email, nor even fax machines. Drawings were not shipped back and forth because it would have taken days or weeks. We leased a Telex machine for our office, and would arrive in the morning to find a pile of telex tape on the floor with construction questions (today called RFIs). We would solve the problems and Telex the answers back that night. All of this communication was in old-fashioned abbreviated Telex language, and obviously with no drawings." As Kirk also noted, many of the construction workers were from the former Portuguese colony of Angola, and had the Bassetti and Company plans redrawn to make them more readable for them.

He concluded that the construction process went smoothly, despite cultural and distance gaps: "As far as we could tell the building was built almost entirely as designed, and we were not involved in significant change orders or construction negotiations." (See Christopher Kirk LLC.com, "U.S. Embassy & Consulate Lisbon, Portugal Design, Construction & Completed Project, 1978-1983: Construction," accessed 08/26/2022.)

This was one of Fred Bassetti's few buildings outside the State of WA, and was considered a plum commission, offered to experienced architects who had developed significant reputations. Bassetti completed at least four projects for the Federal Government, two for the military as well as the notable US Federal Building #3 in Downtown Seattle.

Building Notes

At the time of the firm was designing the US Embassy in Portugal, Bassetti also was planning to add two stories to a building he owned at 4th Avenue and Columbia Street, then occupied by McCormick's Restaurant and the law firm Hillis, Phillips, Cairncross, Clark and Martin. (See Polly Lane, Seattle Sunday Times, “Design challenge: United States Embassy in Lisbon, 09/02/1979, Real Estate Section, p. K5.)

Building Notes

The US Embassy in Lisbon had Modern stylistic characteristics, most apparent in its revealed concrete framing that formed a geometrical grid. A series of hipped roofs covered in clay tile topped the building. Describing the building in 1979, Polly Lane observed: "The complex most certainly is not designed to many would perceive as 'contemporary office' styling. Bassetti says it has no one style, but is a mix of styles to fit the site, using an American statement but carrying it out in local materials, reflecting local characteristics. A review committee in Washington, D.C., has monitored the design work. It includes three architects who, Bassetti says, offered constructive suggestions and have been 'very supportive.'" (See Polly Lane, Seattle Sunday Times, “Design challenge: United States Embassy in Lisbon, 09/02/1979, Real Estate Section, p. K5.) Bassetti was careful not to create a contemporary American office building with reflective glass and flat roof that would have seemed out of place in its residential context.

PCAD id: 11662