The conceptual design for AGU’s renovated headquarters in Washington, D. C., includes a rooftop solar array.
The conceptual design for the American Geophysical Union’s renovated headquarters in Washington, D. C., includes a rooftop solar array. By enabling the upgraded building to generate its own power and capture and treat its own water and waste, the project’s solar cells and other features would make it the first net zero commercial renovation in the city. Credit: Hickok Cole Architects

When the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) current headquarters was built in 1994, every effort was made to construct a facility that would not only serve the operations needs of the growing organization but would also be a physical representation of AGU’s science. Today, as that building’s systems near the end of their useful life, AGU is preparing to renovate the 62,000 square foot, five-story building.

The renovation will help AGU advance the adoption of sustainable solutions rooted in science and position the scientific society and its members as leaders at implementing such solutions.

Beyond replacing the building’s aging and inadequately functioning heating, air conditioning, and plumbing systems, the renovation project presents an opportunity for AGU to embody its mission, vision, and goals. The renovation will help AGU advance the adoption of sustainable solutions rooted in science and position the scientific society and its members as leaders in implementing such solutions—an area of ever-increasing importance. AGU has committed to making the renovation a showcase for Earth and space sciences and a “home away from home” for members visiting Washington, D. C.

Showcasing the Science

The current building celebrates the Earth and space sciences with motifs such as a representation of the solar system embedded in the adjacent sidewalk and layers of texture on the building facade mimicking density changes in Earth’s interior. While the new building will follow that example through the selection of everything from the materials for the build-out to the artwork that will ultimately hang throughout the building, it will also push the goal even further.

Improving public understanding of Earth and space sciences and their contributions to solving the pressing problems facing humanity stands as one of the major goals of the renovation. In addition to numerous design elements intended to tell the story of Earth and space science, the building will include interactive public exhibits that showcase the research done by AGU members.

Promoting Collaboration

AGU will also revamp the building’s internal layout, work areas, and technologies to achieve flexible and adaptable workspaces that foster productivity, collaboration, and efficiency. These spaces will serve not only the AGU staff but also AGU members, partner organizations, and the surrounding community. The new work environment will help AGU staff to better engage with members and provide improved service and programming. The building will become an amenity to both the Earth and space science community and AGU’s neighbors in the Washington, D. C., region.

Striving for Net Zero

By pursuing the renovation with the inquisitiveness and open sharing of knowledge typical of scientific research, AGU intends to catalyze similar approaches and designs in facilities throughout the U.S. capital and beyond.

In keeping with AGU’s intense focus on the Earth and space sciences, with many members researching environmental degradation and climate change, a mission-driven decision was made to strive for a net zero future for the building. A building that is net zero generates its own power and captures and treats its own water and waste. It operates with zero input of energy from the electric grid and of water from the municipal supply. It may generate enough energy from its clean, renewable power sources to put some energy back on the grid.

If achieved, the project would be the first commercial building net zero renovation in the U.S. capital. By pursuing that future vision with the inquisitiveness and open sharing of knowledge that is typical of scientific research, AGU intends to catalyze similar approaches and designs in new and existing facilities throughout the city and beyond.

Construction Team Assembled

To help lead the organization on this journey, AGU has hired Hickok Cole Architects and the engineering design team Interface Engineering to develop the project’s design. It also engaged general contractor Skanska as construction consultant. Other partners include MGAC as project manager and D. C.–based Stratacomm to handle communications.

AGU and these partner firms have solicited input on design and building elements at meetings with members, staff, and other stakeholders, including local water authorities, energy and environment agencies, and neighborhood civic associations.

Next Steps

In March 2016, after this leadership team had completed many rounds of brainstorming, researching, and drawing up options for the remodeled building, AGU’s Board of Directors approved a conceptual design for the project. That design has been presented to and reviewed by the Dupont Circle Conservancy, the D. C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC). It was also presented to the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) and, in a town hall meeting, to people in the immediate community. The project has received support or approval from ANC, DCCA, the Conservancy, and HPRB, plus an overall positive response from the local neighborhood. With the building concept having been approved by the Board, AGU is now moving forward on other steps toward final approval and construction.

Because of D. C. zoning requirements, AGU must seek special exemptions from city regulatory agencies for some elements of the renovation. The final decisions on those exemptions are expected by late summer. AGU must also determine the final budget for the project and secure funding.

In late 2016, the AGU Board will consider for approval the cost, funding, and final design of the remodeled building. If the board gives the go-ahead, construction would begin in early 2017 and last 12 to 18 months. During some of that time, AGU staff will relocate to a temporary office outside of the building. This move should have no impact on services to AGU members.

The upgraded building should open in time for tours by attendees of the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting, which will take place in Washington, D. C., and for AGU’s centennial, which the organization will celebrate in 2019.

Find Out More

For additional information about the renovation, please see the project’s website, and read these posts on AGU’s From the Prow blog: 7 June 2016, 28 March 2016, and 9 November 2015.

—Chris McEntee, Executive Director/CEO, AGU; email:


McEntee, C. (2016), Advancing science through the renovation of AGU’s headquarters, Eos, 97, Published on 08 June 2016.

Text © 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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