Andrew Scott: Managing the design and building of U.S. embassies


(Photo: Myron Adinig)
January 28

Andrew Scott serves as an architectural watchdog for the construction of U.S. embassies in Africa and Southeast Asia, some in modern cities like Jakarta and others in locations where everything from labor to materials are in scarce supply.

“The mission is incredible,” said Scott, project architect for the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operation. “The potential we have to positively affect our relations diplomatically starts with the façade we put out there.”

Scott typically starts on embassy projects during the site selection and continues until they are occupied. He works with American architecture and engineering firms hired to design and build the facilities. In doing so, he represents the interests of the U.S. government, managing a multidisciplinary design and engineering team to make sure the integrity of the design concept is maintained throughout its execution.

He’s now working on U.S. embassy compounds in Chad, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, among other projects. Warm weather buildings have different requirements than those in cold climates and even warm climates present varying challenges.

For example, a building may be designed to function well in a sometimes blisteringly hot place that also endures periods of dust storms or torrential rain.

Who is Andrew Scott?

POSITION: Project Architect and Design Manager, U.S. Department of State

RESIDENCE: Alexandria, Va.

AGE: 51

EDUCATION: Cornell University, Bachelor of Architecture

AWARDS: Excellence in Government Fellowship

HOBBIES: Singing, dance, theater, sailing and photography

Two of Scott’s current projects are in stark contrast. Jakarta, Indonesia, is a big, modern city where the design environment for the embassy is sophisticated and highly regulated, said Patrick Collins, chief of the Architectural Design Division. N’Djamena, Chad, on the other hand is “the end of the earth,” a place where only one or two other buildings have elevators and few roads are paved.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is a real challenge,” said Collins.

Scott is up for it. “He brings a tremendous amount of energy and attention to his job that result in outstanding designs in embassies,” said Collins. “He really enjoys what he’s doing and it’s a great benefit to us all.”

Chad, an undeveloped country in the middle of Africa, has no train to the coast, lacks good highways to neighboring countries and has limited resources. Scott said everything except water, sand and gravel has to be imported. Local day laborers can be employed to move and stack materials, but skilled labor comes from outside the country and that affects the project budget.

“We have to spend twice as much to import materials and labor. That’s money that can’t be spent on the building,” Scott said. “It’s not a negative. It’s just a reality to the program. It’s part of the challenge of what we do.”

While the private sector is motivated by profit, Scott said, “Here it’s about spending money wisely and minimizing waste.”

In Jakarta, the bureau is tearing down and replacing the existing embassy, which sits on Merdeka Square, facing the National Monument, an obelisk that commemorates the struggle for Indonesian independence.

“It’s the only embassy on Merdeka Square,” Scott said. It’s next door to the Indonesian vice president’s offices and across from the Presidential Palace, the country’s equivalent of the White House. “It’s like being on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.”

Due to its prime location, the project has received a lot of attention in Jakarta, and the U.S. team had to go back and present the plans to the city numerous times. “They really held us accountable,” he said. “We’re constantly working on refining the design.”

When seeking the best design solutions for embassy compounds and buildings, Scott works with firms to consider issues from quality, aesthetics and environment to geography, culture, religion and politics. That’s in addition to how functional, flexible and durable the building or buildings will be for the long term.

Scott said N’Djamena, for example, is a rough, undeveloped place where vast areas of housing are constructed with mud brick and lack indoor plumbing. “We wanted the embassy to be an oasis,” he said.

Scott worked at private design firms for 12 years before learning about what was then called the Office of Foreign Building Operations, and the possibility that he could have a job allowing him to follow two of his passions, architecture and cultural exchange.

It took seven years after he interviewed there before a position became available and he was brought on board. Although he did not negotiate the regions he would be working in before accepting, Scott realized after his first few trips that South East Asia and Africa offered opportunities for travel, cultural exchange and diversity of professional experience he wouldn’t have gotten working in Europe or elsewhere.

“They did me a favor,” he said, referring to places he’s been able to visit that he might not have traveled to otherwise, such as East Timor, where he and a core site-selection team starting a new embassy mission in 2000. They slept on cots in tents and were flown in and out of the country on U.N. military transport planes.

“I’ve gotten to see the most incredible things in far corners of the world,” Scott said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fed-player/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at fedplayers@ourpublicservice.org.

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