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Sense of Place

Sense of Place

American University, School of International Service
University Business, Jan 2011

Rich in natural light, the building aims to help students be inspired by the school's mission, encouraging them to remember the need for accountability and transparency in international service.

The School of International Service at American University (D.C.), founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957, is the largest U.S. institution focused on international service. Now it has a dedicated building, as well.

  • FUNCTION: Three-level, 70,000 -square-foot academic building with 300-car parking garage serving 3,200 students, 200 faculty, and 50 staff members
  • CHALLENGES: The school had been spread out within eight buildings on campus, and over the past decade AU officials worked to create a dedicated space for it. Faculty, staff, students, and designers determined the building should reflect the overall goals of the School of International Service, which teaches students to be socially responsible and maintain a commitment to social justice, as well as of the university, which has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2020.

The process of expanding was also a challenge, says Dean Louis Goodman. "In any urban construction, it's difficult to coordinate with the city, meet federal requirements, and get the appropriate permits. We wanted to start construction in September 2007, but March 2008 was when we were actually able to because of misunderstandings with permits." During construction, other issues came up, such as the need to divert excess water to blasting more stone than anticipated.

  • SOLUTION: The project team came up with creative ways to counter all of these difficulties, ultimately finishing the project ahead of schedule and within budget. AU funded the project by selling off property and garnering private donations, as well as through bonds.

A focus was placed on demonstrating the school's commitment to peace and justice, transparency, accountability, and environmental responsibility. "We want the building to be an inspiration, and it already is," says Goodman. "We want it to inspire students to dream and think about what they want to do in the world."

The building boasts the first LED-lit parking garage and first D.C. building with three solar water heating systems. Other green features include rooftop photovoltaic solar panels and cisterns that collect rainwater for use. Carl Elefante, project manager for Quinn Evans Architects, says, "Green only works when you're able to make it part of an integrated process. Getting the thinking right allows you to get the technical issues right, as well."

Initially, the design called for green features such as a solar wall that would preheat air as it entered the building, Elefante says. Although some of the ideas were initially put aside due to budgets, eventually enough money was raised and they were added before completion.

From the standpoint of faculty, staff, and students, they now have one place for classes, advising, and administrative offices. Elefante says, "The School of International Service community needed to be relevant to the larger community: peace and justice in the world couldn't be more global concepts and we've tried to create a building that embodied them."

  • COST: $45 million
  • COMPLETED: September 2010
  • TEAM: Quinn Evans Architects/

William McDonough + Partners; Whiting-Turner Contracting Company