Design Development

April - October 1979

In this phase the architectural design was refined and finalized, and structural, mechanical, and electrical systems were developed and integrated into a unified, functional whole.  The design drawings became much more hardline and definitive.

At the end of the previous phase, the Consulate location and connection to the Chancery were unresolved, the Chancery was too tall, the floor plans were unresolved, and we didn’t have a workable façade design.  We had to step back and resolve these basic issues before we moved ahead.

At the end of this phase the project was again presented to the FBO panel, and, unlike the previous phase, it was enthusiastically approved.


We finally found the right location for the Consulate, along the west side of the site, with separate parking and access outside site security wall.  This allowed the Consulate to be connected to the Chancery via a single secured stairwell, so they appeared to be a single building, but were functionally separate.

We developed the site features such as security walls, drives, parking areas, landscaping, and walkways.  Haag taught us that stairs in the landscape should be broken up so that people can always see the surface of next landing, inviting them to continue up.  We developed series of battered stone retaining walls to step the grades down around the building.


We finally resolved the dilemma of the building height and footprint.  In a weekend charrette, Metler found a way to restack the departments and eliminate a floor.  The new building was pressed into hillside and stepped downward in several sections to reduce bulk and conform to the contours and tree line, and this longer, more horizontal footprint allowed it to connect to the Consulate.  Finally, the new buildings met our goal of fitting into the site and not overwhelming the existing buildings.

The façade was developed so that the structural frame and vaulted ceilings, windows, and mechanical systems were integrated, and these developments snapped the building’s final character into focus.  The design was intended to be a building that was both strong and sensitive, expressing “dignity, strength, and neighborly sympathy.”  It blended a strong, exposed structural concrete frame, which expressed strength and permanence, with Portuguese marble panels, wood windows, balconies, and tile roofs, which added elements of local, traditional forms and materials.

Lisbon was in the most severe earthquake zone, but the structural engineers did not have trouble meeting seismic requirements.  The buildings were only four stories tall, and for several reasons there were many concrete walls.  For architectural and aesthetic reasons, the structure had short spans and more columns than were structurally necessary, with the exterior columns being much larger than required.

However, there were two problems with the strong, exposed concrete structure.  Obviously, the structure was inefficient in the opinion of the structural engineer, who wanted to reduce column sizes and increase their spacing.  Fortunately style triumphed over engineering (often a characteristic of good architecture).  Also, while concrete structural systems were common in Portugal, exposed, finished concrete work was not, and we could not achieve the quality concrete finish we admired in some well-known U.S. buildings.

We finished designing the tile roofs, cutting away some of the roofs to allow views from windows in the recessed wings.  We completed design of decorative steel security fences, gates, and grilles, which echoed those found on many vernacular buildings.

After the building opened we heard through the grapevine that some Portuguese were disappointed that we did not design a sleek, shiny, modern steel and glass “American-style” building like they would see in New York or a major world capital.


We finalized the floor plans and moved on to other elements.  Exiting was a challenge because the floors stepped back, the floors and wings were divided into strictly secured departments, and security systems such as electronic locks were much more primitive than today.

Interiors were a blend of modern technology and traditional Portuguese elements.  The structural concrete columns were exposed, supporting the cast-in-place concrete floor slabs with board-formed structural concrete ceiling vaults, all on the FBO planning module.  Ceilings were painted white for light reflectivity.  FBO and our engineers were concerned from the start about the operable windows and vaulted ceilings because of requirements for standard lighting, mechanical, and electrical systems which usually required sealed exteriors and dropped ceilings. (See Environmental Design below.)

The heating and cooling system was a simple design with heated and chilled water piped to fan-coil units under the windows of most offices, or in the “attic” space above some areas.  Lighting in offices and other spaces was powered from tracks cast into in the ribs of the vaulted concrete ceilings, and power was run in conduits cut into the tile walls, which was standard local practice.  Corridors had lowered ceilings and the space above was used for mechanical and electrical distribution.

Interior walls were plaster on clay tile partitions.  Windows, doors, and trim were all custom designed.  Office casement windows were recessed from the face of the building so they could open behind the required security grilles, and the top floor, which was least vulnerable, had matching French doors and small balconies.  Most of the windows opened, and were fitted with traditional bronze Cremone bolts.

Existing Buildings

The existing buildings were very old, historic, high-risk stone and wood structures which required major structural seismic interventions of shear walls and roof and floor diaphragms.  The main floor of the manor house was restored for dining and reception functions, and the upper floors remodeled for Marine housing.  The chapel was restored.


In general, the buildings were supposed to look friendly and inviting, and security features were to be hidden, or at least subtle.

The Consulate entrance was outside the site wall to allow access by the general public.

The main site entrance was controlled by a gatehouse which was integrated with the site wall and architecture style of the embassy, but which was also a heavily-reinforced, ballistic-rated structure where guards controlled the gates, searched cars and removed packages for storage in an explosion-resistant room, and had an escape exit inside the site wall.  (The carefully-designed gatehouse was replaced years later by a large, white, boxy security office building.)

Building entrances to the Consulate and Chancery were naturally protected from vehicular assault by grades, retaining walls, and bollards.  The doors were rated glass, and there were recessed steel gates that could be closed across the glass doors in emergencies, like a horizontal portcullis.  Exterior windows within two stories of the ground were protected by decorative steel grilles.

Inside the entrance doors to both the Embassy and Consulate, Portuguese guards inspected visitors and packages, and supervised metal detectors.  Visitors then waited in secured lobbies until the Marine guards released them into the “custody” of a staff person who escorted them in the building.  Marine guards were stationed inside ballistic-rated concrete and glass booths (euphemistically labeled "Reception" on floor plans) that overlooked the entrances and the lobbies, and from which they controlled all of the doors and security features such as gun ports and tear gas systems.  The garage had a Marine guard, mechanical security bollards, and overhead doors.  The last entrance was a protected connection between the embassy and the Manor House.

Inside the Chancery, elevator lobbies were isolated and each individual department was secured in a discrete, locked section of a floor.

The most secure functions were on the highest floor of the building, which held the offices of the Ambassador and DCM, and a concrete vault that we were told was for storage of classified files.  Next to the vault was a room labeled “Disintegrator.”  Very James Bond.

Above the top regular floor, under the highest sloped roof, was a second reinforced concrete vault containing secure communications functions.  We were only given mechanical and electrical rough-in requirements for this vault, and at the end of construction a special, isolated “room within a room” was installed by Navy Seabees.  Outside this vault there was access to flat roof areas from which staff could be evacuated by helicopter, and where documents could be destroyed in burn barrels as a last resort.

During construction several unplanned “doghouse” structures appeared on the roof, which we assumed were to hide communications equipment.


Environmental Design

This project was long before the development of LEED and formal green design programs to encourage responsible environmental design, yet it incorporated many environmental features that later became more common.  This was not due to code requirements, nor to FBO requirements, and in some cases was in spite of them.  These features were primarily due to the architects’ philosophy and preference for traditional, natural, common-sense design.

Most materials were local and used in traditional ways while still creating a modern design.  The building included large overhangs and recessed windows for solar shading.  Offices had high ceilings and tall opening casement windows or French doors for natural light and ventilation, in the European tradition.  There were no suspended acoustical ceilings with uniform, generic fluorescent lighting.  Offices had task lighting, but it was necessary to hire William Lam Associates to prove to FBO that flexible task lighting would be adequate, as well as more efficient and more attractive.  With Lam, we developed office lighting designs using daylight, ambient lighting on certain walls, ceiling track lighting, and Danish pendent lights above desks.  (See Interior Design.)