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Italy, Rome, British Embassy, Chancery Building

Embassy (20th Century)

Site Name Italy, Rome, British Embassy, Chancery Building

Classification Embassy (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) British Embassy, Rome

Canmore ID 284890

Site Number NON-UK 20

Datum WGS84 - Lat/Long


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Administrative Areas

  • Council Not Applicable
  • Parish Not Applicable
  • Former Region Not Applicable
  • Former District Not Applicable
  • Former County Not Applicable

Sir Basil Spence

Building Notes

In 1946 the British Embassy in Rome was blown up by terrorists and for the next 25 years the Villa Wolkonsky served as a temporary chancery and residence, continuing in use as the Ambassador's residence after the new Chancery was built. In 1959, after a number of unsuccessful planning applications by the Ministry of Works, Basil Spence was commissioned to design a new embassy and 14 staff flats. The building was inaugurated in September 1968 with Impressa Castelli SpA as the Italian building contractors and Professor Pier Luigi Nervi as the Italian consultant for the project. The Chancery was officially opened in September 1971. Anthony Blee was partner in charge of the project. Roland Paoletti was project architect for a time in Spence's Rome office.

The Embassy is a two-storey, square plan building, supported on piloti and built around a courtyard. The ceremonial approach is from Via XX Settembre. The entrance walkway runs above the main pool and continues beneath the chancery building to the central courtyard and main staircase. The main staircase rises in the form of two cantilevered arms, which wrap around a small pool. All the principal offices are on the first floor. The exterior treatment of the chancery is travertine marble cladding and concrete, materials that the practice also used throughout the interior.

During construction a first century BC mosaic was discovered and transferred to the courtyard pool. The practice also converted an existing stable block, which is built against the Aurelian Wall, into offices and staff accommodation. The 14 staff flats designed by Milton Spence were ultimately not built. A subsequent design by Basil Spence for an Ambassador's residence was also abandoned.

Archive Details

The wealth of material on the British Embassy, Rome in the Sir Basil Spence Archive includes manuscript files showing how the site and the surrounding architecture played a key role in the design of the building. The site was a sensitive one, next to Michaelangelo's Porta Pia and within the Aurelian Wall, it was scheduled as private park area. Spence's decision to raise the building on piloti was taken so that it did not obscure the gardens. He also felt that the chancery should be respectful of the surrounding architecture and his design echoes the horizontal divisions and proportional rhythm of the Porta Pia.

The Archive reveals that Spence and Blee designed furniture for a number of principal rooms including the Ambassador's office, as well as sourcing and commissioning a number of works of art. These include the transfer of seven tapestries (originally in the possession of the Duke of Buccleuch) from the British Art Fund, works from Graham Sutherland and Richard Beer, and a Henry Moore sculpture for the main pool.

Archive Summary

The Sir Basil Spence Archive holds over 270 manuscript folders, over 750 drawings and 570 photographs relating to the British Embassy. The drawings include a comprehensive set of plans for the unexecuted staff flats. The manuscript material includes a number of contemporary British and Italian news articles, and the photographs include images of the site before, during and after completion.

This text was written as one of the outputs of the Sir Basil Spence Archive Project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, 2005-08.


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