In 1946 the British Embassy in Rome was blown up by political terrorists and for the next 25 years the Villa Wolkonsky served as a temporary embassy. 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 while the chancery was officially opened in September 1971.
The Embassy is a two-storey, square plan building, supported on pilotti (pillars) 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 site and the surrounding architecture played a key role in the design of the building. Spence felt very strongly that the chancery should be respectful of the surrounding architecture. The site, next to Michelangelo’s Porta Pia within the Aurelian Wall, was scheduled as private park area. Spence’s decision to raise the building on pilotti (pillars) was taken so that it did not obscure the gardens.
“I have as a neighbour on this site a building by Michelangelo – setting an embarrassingly high standard for any architect to meet!”
- Sir Basil Spence, speaking to the Daily Mail 30 May 1963
During construction a first century BC mosaic was discovered and transferred to the courtyard pool. An existing stable block, which is built against the Aurelian Wall, was turned into offices and staff accommodation. The 14 staff flats were ultimately not built.