AGU Board Approves Net Zero Renovation

Striving to serve as an exemplary model for sustainable buildings and to be the District’s first-ever existing commercial building conversion to reach net zero energy

On Monday, December 12th, the American Geophysical Union announced formal approval from its Board of Directors to undertake the renovation of their existing headquarters building to net zero energy. Hickok Cole Architects has been on the team from the outset, designing the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) $41.7 million renovation of its 62,000-square-foot headquarters building, located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

AGU is an organization dedicated to advancing science and ensuring a sustainable future. Their headquarters–built in 1993–required replacement of all of the building systems. AGU seized upon the opportunity to address the direct connection between climate change and use of fossil fuels to heat and cool buildings. The organization chose to design and engineer the modernization of the building to meet net zero energy goals. In so doing, AGU will be able to showcase real-world scientific advancement through innovative sustainable technology. The project is expected to be a model for reducing the carbon and environmental impacts of business operations by testing and implementing new technologies.

AGU also sought to use their headquarters to better connect with the public and their membership. The interior spaces are created as a welcoming and collaborative environment that facilitates the exchange of scientific findings related to Earth and space science. The workspace design further enables collaboration via multiple meeting spaces and shared facilities. It also fosters wellness with daylight spaces, an inviting communicating stair and an upgraded fitness center.

“AGU strives to be an innovative leader and partner that advances and communicates science’s power to ensure a sustainable future – which must include re-envisioning our workplaces as livable, interconnected environments that are energy efficient, minimize our carbon footprint in the public space, and provide a healthy and dynamic ecosystem for our members and staff,” said AGU’s Executive Director and CEO Chris McEntee. “It must also provide an opportunity to pave the way for others looking to incorporate similar approaches and designs into new and existing facilities throughout our city.”


The Board approval represents a significant milestone capping off an 18-month-long multi-step approval process. Throughout, AGU’s and Hickok Cole Architects’ goal has been to respect the historic values of the surrounding area, and ensure public understanding of the project and its potential impacts. The project has received unanimous endorsements from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B (ANC 2B), and unanimous approvals from the Historic Preservation Review Board and the Board of Zoning Adjustment. The organization, which has been part of the Dupont Circle neighborhood for nearly 40 years, also has strong support from the surrounding community, and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.

With approval secured from the proper agencies and regulatory bodies, Hickok Cole Architects and project partners are now preparing for the first phase of construction to begin in March 2017.

Meeting the net zero energy target for this existing building required consideration of over 30 energy saving and energy producing strategies. In the end 23 strategies were determined to be the most effective combination. A building reaches net zero energy when it realizes an annual balance between energy demand and the creation of energy on-site. This balance will be achieved through a variety of architectural, engineering, and advanced technology methods which reduce, reclaim, absorb, or generate energy or water, including:

  • 11-foot-6-inch high solar rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array to help generate on-site renewable energy
  • Municipal sewer heat exchange system to recover thermal energy from wastewater beneath Florida Avenue
  • Green wall to help reduce energy loads and improve indoor air quality
  • Water cistern to collect rainwater from the roof, as well as condensate water from the dedicated outdoor air system, to produce all the water needed for flushing low-flow toilets and irrigating on-site
  • Direct current (DC) electrified grid with DC LED lighting, which will allow the building to be more energy efficient and use power generated by the solar PV array
  • Radiant cooling system that circulates chilled water through a network of pipes and uses less energy than a traditional forced-air system
  • Enhanced building envelope insulation, dynamic glass shading, and triple-pane glazing, among other interior and exterior high performance strategies

Furthermore, the project goes well beyond net zero energy usage to include other sustainability measures such as reusing unique architectural elements, repurposing existing building materials, and offsite recycling of demolition and construction debris.

Understanding the magnitude of the project, AGU recruited world-class experts in architecture, engineering, construction, and communication to design, plan, and manage the renovation. The project team includes:

For more information on the project, please visit

About Hickok Cole Architects

Hickok Cole Architects is a 100-person collective of architects, project managers, interior designers, graphic/media designers, strategists and researchers, each contributing to our broad based design practice. Led by Sr. Principals Michael E. Hickok, FAIA and Yolanda Cole, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP, it is also one of the most successful architectural firms in the Washington, DC region, experiencing steady growth over a period of twenty-nine years.

About AGU

The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 60,000 members in 139 countries.

Project Media Contact:
Karyn Le Blanc
Phone: 202-589-2730

Hickok Cole Media Contact:
Laura Ewan
Director of Marketing and Communications
Hickok Cole Architects
Phone: 202-667-9776

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