Milken Institute School of Public Health
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.
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.