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Designing a King Charles Street reception the building deserves

The reception of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s (FCDO) headquarters desperately needed refurbishment. To match the grandeur of the main building and meet accessibility standards, significant improvements were needed.

The King Charles Street (KCS) building is at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy machine, with the FCDO as its resident. Located around the corner from Westminster, Ministers of State, FCDO Staff and foreign representatives walk the hallways on a daily basis.

The KCS reception needed to give a good first impression, and the FCDO felt the existing reception needed major upgrades. FCDO Services was commissioned to design and install a new reception that would meet current and future requirements, while maintaining the building’s heritage.   

Designing the new reception

As a Grade I listed building, the design and installation of a new reception posed a few challenges for FCDO Services. All changes needed to be carefully managed and approved by Historic England and Westminster City Council.   

To address accessibility, our teams improved the circulation space for visitors and light levels, using hidden LED lighting. We also added contrasting granite inserts on the newly installed staircase to make it easier for those with visual impairments to navigate it, as well as accessible toilets with automatic doors.

These enhancements received praise from the FCDO’s Diversity Inclusion and Awareness Network.

Honouring our history

The new reception houses a collection of artworks by contemporary British artists promoting our countries country’s culture and history.   

The collection features a newly commissioned portrait of Her Late Majesty the Queen welcoming visitors to the FCDO, alongside works symbolising the UK and its relationship with the Commonwealth.   

Staying on track during the pandemic

Project work started in December 2019 with the removal of the old reception, with most of the refurbishment happening under COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Rigorous safety processes were established, working closely with FCDO colleagues, to continue the project and protect staff.   

Successful completion of works

FCDO Services worked with key stakeholders, receiving planning permission in January 2021.

The installation of the new reception addressed many of the FCDO’s concerns about the original space. These included poor lighting, insufficient seating space, a cramped feeling and having only one entrance for all visitors.   

In August 2022, work completed with the delivery of an “absolutely splendid” reception restoring the KCS building to the “national palace” it once used to be.  

I arrived in KCS after a couple of weeks leave this morning, via the new Reception. It is absolutely splendid. The room is open and light, and it is a fantastic backdrop for the artwork.”
Former Director, Estates, Security and Network Directorate, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office