SOM's competition-winning design for Nato's headquarters in Brussels not only encourages co-operation between the expanding alliance's member states, it also comes with wings …
A group of four colossal wings flying in close formation is to be the future home of defence alliance Nato in Brussels.

This futuristic design, dreamed up by the London office of American architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, last week won an international competition for the £200m headquarters.

The scheme has been hailed by secretary-general Lord Robertson as "a tangible manifestation of the alliance's ambitious agenda for transformation, adaptation, renewal and change" and is required to cater for the enlargement of the alliance to 26 member states next year.

Larry Oltmanns, who led SOM's design team, describes the winning design concept as "the fabric that knots all the countries together into one integrated organisation".

The four six-storey wings will house the delegations of all the member states; alternating between the pairs of wings are shorter building strips that will house Nato's central administration.

Down the central spine of the complex is a wide mall, known as the "agora", which contains the main conference chamber. "The agora was the ancient Greek centre of democracy, where dialogue took place," Oltmanns explains. "There's a lot of lobbying going on between member states at Nato – the agora encourages informal interaction between the formal meetings."

Completion of the project is scheduled for 2009. However, diplomats at Nato have already expressed concern that building costs could escalate to £333m.

"Nobody wants to spend lavishly on this; nobody wants anything grand," one diplomat reportedly said. Judging by this impressive design, however, nobody told SOM.