Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo Vila and Guatemala City Mayor Ricardo Quiñónez Lemus joined Ambassador William W. Popp on November 23, 2020 at the New U.S. Embassy’s construction site in the capital’s Zona 16 to commemorate the project’s “Top Out” ceremony. A “Top Out” is a “builder’s rite” that marks the stage in a construction project where the highest point in a structure is completed, meaning all the major structural components of a project are in place. In 2017, the Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced the contract award for construction of the new embassy campus, which first broke ground in April 2018. The construction has involved over four million labor hours. The project is now 56% complete and the campus’ completion is projected for summer 2022.
During the event, Ambassador Popp stated, “Today we honor the 4 million hours of work. We express our gratitude to the 2,600 Guatemalan workers and 450 Guatemalan companies that are contributing to this new embassy.”
This project is among some complex and cutting-edge U.S. embassy building projects worldwide. The design concept weaves Mayan features with the latest developments in building techniques that will result in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified structure that is sustainable and seismically sound.
The design uses a composition of stone walls derived from local stone, which allows for a landscape with terraces that emphasizes urban ecology. Mayan sites throughout the region employ this type of geometric sculpting of the earth and ultimately blur the line of building and site. When completed, the main building will emerge from the ground plane as two complementary bars – a stone base and a glass tower. The base reflects an earthbound quality through its materiality and its relationship to the terracing of the site.
The new Embassy’s sustainable design is part of the United States’ worldwide commitment to preserving the environment and represents its deep appreciation for Guatemala’s rich and diverse ecosystem. The 9.4-acre site will absorb water runoff by using rooftop gardens and green spaces planted with native Guatemala foliage. It will also treat and reuse its own wastewater and, thanks to a system of water detention tanks, create a zero percent increase in water runoff for the surrounding area. The building will use environmentally sustainable energy conservation measures to achieve a thirty percent energy savings. Solar panels will form portions of the roof and outdoor sunshades, allowing the building to generate ten percent of its own electricity.
Moreover, this innovative undertaking marks a US$100 million investment in Guatemala’s economy through builder B.L. Harbert International’s (BLHI) focus on hiring 2,600 Guatemalan laborers and work with approximately 450 local companies. BLHI has also contributed to Guatemala’s prosperity, health, and safety in other ways. During 2018’s Volcán de Fuego eruption, BLHI donated upwards of US$3,000 in supplies as well as labor to assist in the recovery efforts. The company donated US$37,875 and helped build the new school Casa del Niño 7, zona 16, in 2019; and in 2020, BLHI raised and contributed over US$3,600 to assist Eta recovery efforts.
During the Top Out ceremony, the Ambassador thanked the Guatemalan workers, staff from OBO, and BLHI personnel for their relentless efforts, as well as Foreign Minister Brolo and Mayor Quiñónez for their support, without which this milestone would simply not be possible. He concluded saying, “the completed U.S. Embassy campus will embody a clear symbol of the friendship between the United States and Guatemala and will modernize the U.S. Embassy’s platform for providing Consular services and conducting diplomacy in the new millennium.”