Birch Thomas

Nearly half the carbon in the atmosphere is created by the demolition, construction, and operation of buildings. That is why, when making plans for the future of its Washington, D.C., headquarters, AIA knew that the most sustainable pathway was renewing its existing building.

To develop our goals for the renewal, we needed to understand the aspiration of the original design. AIA leased the historical Octagon House as its headquarters in 1899, purchasing it in 1902. When the organization needed more space in the 1960s, we made the decision to complement the structure with a compatible modern building—a radical idea at the time.

AIA held a design competition, and a jury selected plans from New York–based Mitchell/Giurgola Associates. However, the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, the design review board for D.C. buildings, refused to approve the firm’s design, saying it was “out of keeping with the feeling of the Octagon House.”

A committee to select a new architect chose Cambridge, Mass.-based The Architects Collaborative, and the Brutalist-style building was completed in 1973. The headquarter’s features reflected what was then considered a modern workplace.

Now, 50 years later, while the building is still iconic, the way we work and what the profession recognizes as important has changed. AIA’s headquarters must embody our global message of sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Decisions made during the process also respect fiscal responsibility to our members.

Renewing the existing building sends the critical message that adaptive reuse is possible, valuable, and the right thing to do. The design follows AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence, which seeks to inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment. The design electrifies all building systems, while incorporating on- and off-site renewable energy to fully decarbonize the campus. We also followed the 2030 Commitment and Materials Pledge.

Our goal is to create a welcoming space with a dynamic and flexible design that will foster collaboration. A suite of amenities—including drop-in coworking space, meeting facilities, and VR/media lounges—will be available to AIA members, AIA staff, partner organizations, and the public.

The design also considers the building’s place within the local community with a more open and engaging courtyard. Designers involved with the project reflect the lens of equity, including a cohort of interns from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

We look forward to welcoming everyone to our new international hub for design innovation and excellence.