From ocean sciences and geology to seismology and planetary sciences, when our headquarters building was designed in the early 90s every effort was made to have the structure be representative of the broad array of sciences comprised by AGU’s membership. More than 20 years later, with that building’s critical infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life and a renovation becoming necessary, the Board realized that they had a choice to make:
- Simply replace the building’s aging and under-functioning systems to ensure that it could continue to serve AGU’s operational requirements; or
- View the need to replace those systems as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to live out AGU’s mission of “science for the benefit of humanity,” to showcase our members’ work and be a physical embodiment of the spirit and values of scientific discovery, and to help us inform the public about the positive impact our science can have on society.
As I told you last November, when presented with this choice the Board unanimously decided to take on the challenge of renovating our headquarters to be a living representation of AGU’s mission, science and purpose and an opportunity to lead by example. Today, I’m pleased to let you know that their goal has progressed another step forward, and they have approved a conceptual design for the project.
The conceptual design will make it possible for us to become the first-ever existing commercial building to achieve “net zero” in the District of Columbia—meaning that, through the use of innovative technologies and sustainable materials, we would be able to reduce energy, water, and waste consumption to a zero effect. If the final version of this design is approved, the project will demonstrate that it is both possible and cost-effective for businesses to reduce the carbon and environmental impacts of their operations. And we have committed to sharing the knowledge gained throughout the process freely and openly in an effort to spark similar approaches and designs throughout D.C. and beyond and, ultimately, meaningful change in the use of our limited natural resources.
In addition to the sustainability impacts, the building’s design and elements will provide value to members by reflecting and promoting the work of the Earth and space science community. This will be evident in our selection of everything from materials for the build-out to the artwork that will ultimately hang throughout the building. We also plan to open up the main floor of the building to provide space for interactive public exhibits that will showcase our members work and demonstrate how Earth and space science is contributing to solving the pressing problems facing society. And we are investigating options for real-time pilot/test trials of sustainable engineering or advanced technologies that would be accessible to both members and the public.
Of course, the design will also provide substantially improved meeting and event space—including more functional access to the rooftop—and technology, making it an amenity to both the Earth and space science community and our neighbors in the Washington, D.C. region. And because we want you to view the new building as your home-away-from-home whenever you are in Washington, D.C., it provides a well-equipped and dedicated space for members to use for informal gatherings and work space.
While we are very excited about the possibilities this project presents for AGU, the Board’s approval of the conceptual design is by no means the final step in the process. Due to local zoning restrictions, some elements of the project are going to require that we seek special exemptions from D.C. regulatory authorities. We have been encouraged by the response from the local community and D.C. leaders and agencies thus far; many of whom are very excited at the possibility of having such a ground-breaking building in the city. Their final decisions are expected by late summer.
We also have to determine the final budget and secure funding for the project before work can begin. As our project team continues to refine and tweak the plan over the spring and summer, the Board will be reviewing and make decisions on the next iteration of the design and the costs. They will also be choosing a financial partner to advise us on options for funding the renovation. Final approval on the design, cost and funding is expected at the Board’s December 2016 meeting, and we anticipate that construction will begin in early 2017.
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This post originally appeared in From the Prow.