The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is an international non-profit scientific association with more than 60,000 members representing Earth and space science. The purpose of AGU is to promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity.
Unlike some other scientific fields that are far removed from the life of most people, those of AGU members influence everyone every day: rainfall rates, trends in marine fisheries, earthquake probabilities, volcanic eruption potentials. We embrace not only the joys of science, but the appreciation of the wondrous mechanisms that make our planet function.
AGU was established in 1919 by the National Research Council, and for more than 50 years, we operated as an unincorporated affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences. AGU was independently incorporated in 1972.
Built in 1994, the headquarters, located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C., is more than 20 years old and is in need of system upgrades and a complete overhaul of the work space footprint. In 2013, the Board of Directors voted to ensure the renovation would meet the highest possible level of sustainability. This renovation will be the first-of-its-kind in D.C.
The design of the existing AGU headquarters building was conceived in response to AGU’s strong desire to create an architecture identifiable with its organization and express the spirit of its various scientific disciplines. Designed by Shalom Baranes Associates, passersby can view symbolism on the exterior of the building.
Along the sidewalks, the planets and their orbits around the sun are represented by brass and marble. A point representing the sun is located in the plaza at the corner of Florida and 20th Street. The distance of the planets from the sun are relative, with aphelion distances (when the planets are farthest away from the sun) along Florida, and perihelion distances (closest to the sun) along 20th Street.
The building’s facade mirrors the changes in density within the Earth, and the pattern on the frieze that encircles the building represents the disciplines studied by AGU members: space and the planets, the atmosphere, solid Earth, and the hydrosphere.
Inside the lobby, the panels of sapeli mahogany with their crossfire pattern recall the waves on a seismogram. The petrified wood on top of the front desk is a literal example of geologic forces; wood similar to that on the paneling has become stone. On the floor is a marble and granite compass rose that points true north. The circle at the center of the compass represents Earth and the outer ring of the compass is proportional to the orbit of the moon and the Earth. The arc outside the entrance represents the diameter of the sun as compared to the size of the Earth in the compass.