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United States Coast Guard Headquarters

Perkins+Will, WDG Architecture

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U.S. General Services Administration

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1,200,000 sq. feet



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Text by Thomas Fisher, Assoc. AIA

It takes real skill to add the 1.2-million-square-foot U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters to St. Elizabeths National Landmark campus in Washington, D.C., without detracting from that historic setting. The first phase of the Department of Homeland Security’s consolidation project, the Coast Guard’s new site slopes down 115 feet, the building stepping downhill toward the Potomac River. Green roofs make the structure disappear when seen from above.

The structure’s narrow wings and its perimeter brick walls echo the form and material of the nearby St. Elizabeths Hospital. But the cladding facing away from the campus toward the green roofs, courtyards, and views of the D.C. skyline has a much different character: glass curtainwalls, with irregular patterns of mullions and green spandrel panels that echo the foliage of the surrounding landscape.

Entered at the top of the hill—through a zinc- and stone-clad portal—the building has a bank of glass-walled elevators that connect all 10 floors. A circulation spine links this entrance to the furthest wings at the bottom of the slope, making it easy to navigate what otherwise looks like a complicated plan.

Because of the excavation required to work the massive square footage into the sloped site, the design team also had to think about water circulation to keep flooding at bay, devising a system that pumps groundwater from the foundation drains back to the aquifer. The base of the site is anchored by a pond, keeping the institution’s nautical sensibility at hand.

Project Credits

Project: United States Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Client: U.S. General Services Administration
Design Architect: Perkins+Will, Chicago . Ralph Johnson, FAIA (principal designer); Tom Mozina, AIA (senior project designer); Bryan Schabel, AIA, Todd Snapp, AIA (project designers); Paul Clinch, AIA (project manager); Jane Cameron, FAIA (senior project architect); Aki Knezevic, AIA (CCC leader); Shane Mathewson (architecture team); Dennis Blaul (specifications); Ian Bush, Eileen Pedersen, AIA, Michelle Malecha (exterior wall team); Michael Rafferty (central utility plant team); Cassandra Cullison, AIA (interior project manager); Lynn Goldfarb, AIA, Thomas Gregory, Assoc. AIA (interiors)
Architect of Record: WDG Architecture
Interior Designer: HOK
Mechanical Engineer: Environmental Systems Design; Girard Engineering
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti; Cagley & Associates
Electrical Engineer: Environmental Systems Design; Girard Engineering; Dynalectric Co.
Civil Engineer: William H. Gordon & Associates; Soltesz & Associates
Geotechnical Engineer: GeoConcepts Engineering; ECS
Construction Manager: AECOM
General Contractor: Clark Construction
Landscape Architect: Andropogon Associates; HOK
Lighting Designer: Horton Lees Brogden; MCLA
Security Consultant: Applied Research Associates
Vertical Transportation Consultant: John J. Urbikas & Associates
Historic Preservation Consultant: Wiss Janney Elstner Associates; Quinn Evans Architects
Child Care Consultant: Horizons Design; Michael Lindstrom Associates Architects
Fitness Consultant: WTS International
ADA Consultant: Willow Design
Cost Estimating Consultant: William H. Gordon & Associates
Acoustical/Audiovisual Consultant: Cerami & Associates; S2N Technologies
Blast Consultant: Hinman Consulting Engineers; Weidlinger Associates
Fire Protection Consultant: Applied Fire Protection Engineering
Envelope Consultant: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Code Consultant: Arup
Elevator Consultant: Robert L. Seymour & Associates
Size: 1.2 million square feet
Cost: Withheld

This project appears in the March 2016 issue of ARCHITECT, as part of the Perkins+Will project portfolio Ralph Johnson: New Topographies.

Project Description


The 1.2 million-square-foot United States Coast Guard (USCG) Headquarters is located on the St. Elizabeths’ National Historic Landmark Campus, which resides along the eastern rim of the “green typographic bowl” that encompasses Washington D.C. The site of the USCG Headquarters is situated along a steep embankment just west of the historic Center Building. The building’s height, siting, materials: red brick and schist stone, and landscaped roofs and courtyards relate, in scale and texture, to the historic campus and will blend in with its natural surroundings. A zinc clad entry portal frames an interior/exterior ceremonial space. Utilizing the natural slope of over 115’ across the site, the building forms a network of interconnected cascading quadrangles that are woven into the natural landscape fabric, neutralizing any visual impact on the “green bowl”. This progression provided the inspiration for the landscape concept, where the use of vegetation and hardscape features reflect the character of each ecoregion of D.C. and the surrounding areas. The LEED Gold Certified structure has an extremely narrow foot print. Shaded brick & glass perimeter and interior facing curtainwall facades maximize natural light and provide visual connections to the courtyards. Intensive/extensive green roofs and rain gardens control storm water runoff.
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