What role does design play in diplomacy?

We're very free-trade oriented. We held a public competition for the embassy residence, and there were 10 finalists. In the end we chose a Swiss-American joint venture, a perfectly 50-50 deal between Holl and Rüssli, who is a colleague and former student of Holl. I'm very happy that it is a joint venture because it shows how well the United States and Switzerland cooperate.

  • Urs Ziswiler

    Credit: Nancy Froehlich

    Urs Ziswiler

Did Holl, an American, succeed in evoking Switzerland?

If you stand before the house, you don't think it is in the middle of the Alps, but it reflects the nature of Switzerland––one third of the whole country is covered by mountains and glaciers. The mountains are not very high and not always covered by snow, but look white and charcoal black like the façade of the residence.

What's it like to live here?

We feel very comfortable. Our flat on the upper floor has a terrace with a beautiful view of Washington. From my bedroom, the first glimpse in the morning is the Washington Monument. It places me geographically home. It is an expansion of my workplace. We run about 400 events a year with more than 3,000 guests.

How important is ecology to the design?

Switzerland is very ecologically oriented, and we have very strict legislation. We didn't want to build abroad without respecting the legislation we have at home and are very proud of. The building has a sophisticated energy recovery system, a sunshade system, and a green roof. The snow-white glass is also specially designed and imported from Europe because it is energy saving.

Was it difficult to achieve the quality of construction in Washington that you can get in Bern?

The architect from Holl's office who covered the day-to-day oversight of the project, Olaf Schmidt, studied architecture at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He's perfectly familiar with what we expect. We still have a significant punch list. In the next two to three months, we are going to insist that it's done to our standards. It's an important building, and we want a perfect finish since Switzerland is famous for its precision work.