Milken Institute School of Public Health

Architect: Payette

Associated firm: Ayers Saint Gross

Owner: George Washington University

Location: Washington, DC

Project site: Brownfield

Building program type(s): Education—College/University (campus-level)

The new Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University embeds the core values of public health—movement, light and air, greenery, connection to place, social interaction, community engagement—in a highly unconventional, LEED Platinum building on an urban campus in the heart of the nation’s capital. The building’s more radical features are evident in section, where research offices, classrooms and study areas are clustered around an array of multi-floor void spaces that open the building’s dense core to daylight and views. An irresistible, sky-lit stair ascends all eight levels, encouraging physical activity. The building’s pod-like classrooms are set in from the perimeter wall so that informal study and social interaction space can overlook the bustling traffic circle.

Image: Robert Benson Photography

This new LEED Platinum certified School of Public Health, located on iconic Washington Circle Park in the heart  of the nation’s capital, is an unusual and innovative response to site. The project’s most sustainable solutions are deeply embedded into its architecture, keenly demonstrating the symbiosis between sustainability and public health.

The project’s central challenge was how to accommodate the program on an awkwardly configured site without disconnecting occupants from daylight, air and views—qualities that have particular meaning for students and faculty in public health. To achieve this, the design team extensively manipulated the building section: while the required program would have fit on six above-grade floors, the floor-to-floor height was squeezed to 12 feet and a seventh level was inserted within the allowable zoning envelope instead.

This single move, only made possible through the optimization and integration of the building’s structural and mechanical systems, was the genesis of an unconventional skylit atrium, in which classrooms and study areas overlook the city through an open latticework of floor openings, inviting exploration and discovery. An open stairway at the building’s center connects all eight occupied floors, promoting health and wellness by encouraging building occupants to forgo use of the elevators, which are screened from view.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2012

Year of substantial project completion: 2014

Gross conditioned floor area: 145,700 sq ft

Gross unconditioned floor area: 15,400 sq ft

Number of stories: 9

Project Climate Zone: 4A (ASHRAE)

Annual hours of operation: 4,576

Site area: 21,500 sq ft

Project site context/setting: urban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $60 million

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 1,477

Project team

Civil engineer: Wiles Mensch Corporation

MEP/FP engineer: Affiliated Engineers, Inc.

Structural engineer: Tadjer-Cohen-Edelson Associates

LEED consultant: Paladino and Company

Lighting designer: Atelier Ten

Elevator consultant: Zipf Associates, Inc.

Acoustical/Audiovisual: Shen Milsom Wilke

Code consultant: Rolf Jensen Associates

Fire protection consultant: R.W. Sullivan Engineering

Third party rating systems

LEED: Platinum (v2009)


Annie Chu, FAIA IIDA


Woodbury University

Los Angeles, California

Steve Kieran, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C

Kieran Timberlake

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Lake, FAIA

Lake Flato

San Antonio, Texas

Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE LEED AP

Integral Group

Austin, Texas

Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA

Living Futures Institute

Seattle, Washington

Jury comments

"As an urban scale project in the District of Columbia, this project focused on addressing stormwater on-site through a green roof and rainwater collection, achieving LEED Platinum certification. An innovative atrium design brings daylight into all floors of the building, which has a complex mix of labs and meeting/office spaces, encourages connections, and offers views."


Image credits


Robert Benson Photography


Robert Benson Photography


Robert Benson Photography