A building for all times
Construction begins in February on AIA’s building renewal. Throughout the project, AIA will share progress on this industry-leading renovation while celebrating its landmark headquarters and the communities who helped build its rich history.
AIA Headquarters: Then and now
In 1964, decades after outgrowing the Octagon House, the organization’s first home in Washington, D.C., the American Institute of Architects (AIA) held a competition, calling on members to submit plans to design its new headquarters. AIA challenged applicants to imagine “a building of special architectural significance, establishing a symbol of the creative genius of our time, yet complementing, protecting, and preserving a cherished symbol of another time, the historic Octagon House.” Mitchell/Giurgola Associates, a firm from Philadelphia, Penn., submitted the winning design.
The early 1960s was the era of urban renewal. Historic homes and buildings were being torn down and replaced with stylish office spaces. AIA’s idea to complement the historic Octagon structure with a compatible modern building was considered radical. The Mitchell/Giurgola design would evolve three times before the firm eventually removed its architects from the process. A new firm, The Architects Collaborative (TAC), based in Cambridge, Mass., was hired. Its team developed the Brutalist structure that has served as AIA’s homebase since 1973. It has become a popular spot for hosting business meetings and social events while providing a consistent revenue source for the organization.
Today, with its dated single-pane windows and uninsulated exterior walls, the 50-year-old structure falls far short of meeting the organization’s Framework for Design Excellence. Likewise, it presents countless challenges for gathering staff and hosting AIA members. In 2021, AIA announced plans to renovate its building, calling, once again, on its valued stakeholder community of climate experts, members, staff, and emerging architects, including six students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in a unique internship program to envision a post-COVID workplace of the future.
This building must perform
The early 2020s are bringing population decline to urban areas. Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that cities among the fastest-growing before the COVID-19 pandemic grew at a much slower pace. At the same time, 58 % of counties experienced population growth, fueled partly by the hybrid and remote work opportunities the pandemic forced. More people choose to live where they want, not where they work. Some may consider AIA’s decision to re-invest in its downtown office space risky. Still, like leading tech executives making investments in office expansions because they believe office space will play a vital role in the future of work, AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer Lakisha Ann Woods, CAE, says this once-in-a-generation renovation will leverage forward-looking design to enhance and foster AIA’s connection to the community and create a flexible and collaborative environment that embodies AIA’s mission and values.
“I have always been inspired by the profession’s commitment to creating a better tomorrow through the power of design, and I trust our designers and our stakeholders to guide this project as a model of stewardship and sustainability. AIA’s dual focus on climate action for human and ecological health, and advancing racial, ethnic, and gender equity will inform every aspect of the renovation project,” said Woods. “When our staff returns in a hybrid model and when AIA members visit to collaborate on the issues that matter most to them, this building must perform. It must perform for its daily users, for its 96,000 member architects, and for the betterment of our imperiled environment.”
Designing an environment of advocacy
West Coast-based architecture firm EHDD created the new design to transform the existing building into a high-performance, high-impact space. The project is one of the first fully decarbonized major building renovations in the US, demonstrating a cost-effective and replicable approach to climate action in existing buildings. The renovations will exceed AIA 2030 Commitment standards for fossil-fuel use reduction by fully electrifying the building, reducing energy use by 58 percent, and serving the building through a 100 percent renewable energy mix. Embodied carbon from materials and construction is cut in half, as compared to a typical new building through building reuse and a rigorous material vetting process. All remaining embodied carbon will be offset through an innovative agreement with Habitat for Humanity, where AIA has pledged $500,000 to purchase and install solar panels in 50 or more homes in Virginia.
“The transformed campus will be a bold and visible statement of AIA’s values and priorities,” said EHDD partner Rebecca Sharkey, AIA, explaining how the building’s existing envelope will be upgraded to exceed code minimum performance standards and enhanced with a new PV sunshade structure.
“Amorphous silicon PV panels create a continuous ribbon across the entire width of the façade, adjusting in tilt to optimize their orientation as they move from south to west; a future-forward and site-responsive compliment to the existing ribbon window design. An additional layer of ceramic frit patterning in the PV glass assembly creates a dappled light effect that evokes the sense of movement and time as the sun moves across the building,” said Sharkey.
Beyond serving AIA members and staff, the redesigned space will allow the public to learn about and celebrate architecture through exhibitions and lectures.
When complete, Sharkey believes AIA’s historic headquarters will inspire future designs with the potential to create a more just, resilient, and sustainable future.
“AIA is transforming the building into an environment of advocacy,” said Sharkey.