2017 AIA Awards – Interior Architecture
Associate Firm: Ayers Saint Gross
Owner: George Washington University
Location: Washington, D. C.
Situated on a triangular site just blocks from the White House, the highly sustainable 161,000-square-foot new school embodies the core values of public health.
Since it was founded in 1997, the university’s school of public health had functioned without a true home of its own, operating from multiple locations, some of which were located off campus. While it can be beneficial for public health faculty members and students to embed themselves within the community, a key goal for the project was to solidify the school in one location in order to bring its multiple departments together and create a singular identity.
The building itself is a rigorous but innovative response to its site. Faced with a geometrically challenging location, the team responded by organizing the building into two halves. The rectilinear research and administration half is coupled with its partner, a curving volume that fronts Washington Circle and contains a mix of learning environments. By reducing the floor-to-ceiling height to 12 feet, the architects were able to insert a seventh floor while adhering to zoning parameters.
The building is carried by a cast-in-place, post-tensioned concrete skeleton, which was chosen for its ability to span classrooms of all sizes. Departing wildly from standard practice, its pod-like classroom spaces are set in the perimeter, allowing those engaged in social interaction and study to overlook the nearby park. The inviting sky-lit central staircase services all levels and encourages physical activity, while a network of atriums floods the building with daylight.
Despite its unusual organization, the new school provides staff, faculty, and students a wealth of individual and collaborative environments in a setting that reflects the curriculum’s vision.