Slate creates a regional environment

August 17, 2001
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The natural elements that comprise Bangladesh's landscape were a major consideration in planning the design of the country's new embassy in Washington, DC. And the fact that Bangladesh sits in a lush green river delta in Southeastern Asia inspired the architects at SmithGroup Inc. to use Burlington slate to create the illusion of running water through the center of the building on the public level.

"Essentially, for the skin of the building, we were trying to make it as regional as possible," said Project Architect Edward Garcia of SmithGroup Inc. in Washington, DC. "There wasn't any precedence to follow, so we were trying to match the hues and colors of their country. Green is everywhere."

The architect explained that the building plan of the Chancery for the People's Republic of Bangladesh is symmetrical, and the slate was used as a dividing line down the center of the first floor to create the impression of a riverbed. And to further enhance the look, the texture of the slate varies - with some waterjet-finished pieces and some that were honed. "It's a great material," said Garcia. "When you look at it, it looks like water."

In addition to employing different finishes, the design also incorporated varying types of Burlington slate. The interior flooring is comprised of Broughton Moor and Elterwater slate. The Broughton Moor extends to the outside entrance where it dorms two pools. In total, approximately 7,163 square feet of the materials combined were employed for the floor, stair treads and risers, sills, coping and exterior cladding.

Choosing the palette

When selecting the building materials, the architects did have a budget to consider, according to Garcia. "We knew our concept," he said. "The goal was to find a good product out there, but it also had to be cost effective. The client didn't have a big budget. We had to find an economical solution.

"Originally, we looked at limestone for the whole building, and also granite," said Garcia. "In the end, we weren't convinced that we had the right palette. We couldn't get past the slate. We thought if we kept it simple, we could use it everywhere."

To complement the Broughton Moor slate on the exterior facade, the architects also chose Mankato Kasota limestone - supplied by Mankato Kasota Stone Inc. in Mankato, MN. For budget reasons, the limestone was only used to clad the front entrance to the 46,000-square-foot building. The golden cream coloring of the material was intended to represent sandstone found in Bangladesh's riverbeds to go along with the water theme, according to the architect.

Additionally, an upside-down gable roof was employed to represent Bangladesh's national flower -- the water lily.

Planning for the design began in May 1997, and construction was completed in April 2000. The chancery consists of three levels and a mechanical penthouse above grade, with one and a half levels below grade. Program areas include diplomatic offices, an Ambassador's suite, meeting rooms, a prayer room with male and female ablution rooms, a major public gathering hall with adjacent auditorium for receptions and presentations and below grade parking. Presently, the building holds 30 employees, but provides room for expansion.

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