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American Magazine

On Campus

Gold Standard

By Adrienne Frank

(Photo: Jeff Watts)

(Photo: Jeff Watts)

They’ve long worked for justice and peace. They’ve always embraced diversity and cultivated an intellectual curiosity that has taken them around the globe. They’ve continually strived for a better world.

And now, the School of International Service community has the one thing that’s eluded them for decades: space. With the opening of SIS’s 70,000-square-foot green gem in May, faculty, students, and staff finally have room to collaborate, explore, and dream.

The building, which will be dedicated on September 23, reflects both how far SIS has come and how much it has remained the same. From the small details—the terrazzo floors crafted from recycled materials—to such striking elements as the crystalline windows that flood the space with natural light and fresh air, the building is the physical manifestation of the SIS founding commitment: to ecological stewardship, to transparency and social justice, and to community building.

“A building should be a living thing, and if anyone says, ‘the work is done,’ that would be disappointing,” says SIS Dean Louis Goodman. “We’re always going to look for interesting, innovative ways to use the space. It will inspire students to engage the great issues of our time.”

Traditions Old and New

More than a half century ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower thrust a shovel into a patch of dirt on the AU quad and pronounced, “the waging of peace demands the best we have.” With that, the School of International Service was born.

In 2007, that same shovel was used to break ground on the site of SIS’s new green home: a place where scholars and students could rededicate themselves to the school’s founding mission.

SIS has always been steeped in tradition. While many customs have carried over to the new building, the space is also giving life to fresh traditions. The building is truly a reminder of where SIS has been and where it’s headed.

The Dav grinds 100 lbs. of coffee beans and 55 lbs. of espresso per week. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

The Dav 

In 1957 the SIS Davenport Memorial Room was a chapel. But long ago it was transformed into a different sort of sacred space.

Faithful followers have imbibed coffee and conversation for decades. Students and volunteers manage the lounge, which, many agree, is the heartbeat of SIS: a place to study, socialize, or decompress with
a newspaper and a joe.

The new Davenport Lounge may be sleeker than its predecessor,
but it’s still more SIS than Starbucks. The well-worn world map
that hung in the old Dav now graces the new walls. The old furniture and marble coffee table (once an altar) sit firmly on new ground,
and coffee is served in an eclectic mix of donated mugs. 

A $20,000 gift of the class of 2010 was used to purchase patio furniture, so patrons can enjoy their chai and croissants under
blue skies.

Korean Garden

Yoshino cherry trees, gifts from the Korean Forest Research Center, will anchor the SIS garden. The saplings—which require minimal fertilizer and water—commemorate a relationship between SIS and the Koreans that blossomed nearly 70 years ago.

In 1943, Syngman Rhee, who would become the first president of liberated Korea, and AU president Paul Douglass, who would become his advisor, planted three flowering cherry trees around the SIS building. Those trees went on to flower each year.

SIS rock sculpture

Sculptor Adam Distenfeld, left, and SIS dean Louis Goodman (Photo: Jeff Watts)


Sculptor Adam Distenfeld of Brooklyn Rockwerks chose five large stones from the excavation and married them with stainless steel rods and water to create an inukshuk—a Native American place marker—for the SIS atrium. In his view rocks are mineral masterpieces waiting to be unearthed.

Green and Gold 

From conception to construction, the building represents the most innovative thinking in eco-friendly design. Renowned green architect William McDonough designed the building to be LEED Gold certified—the benchmark for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Michael Purcell, assistant university architect, expects the building will be LEED certified by the end of 2010.

“You’ll never see another Battelle-Tompkins or another university library, because the quality of design has improved so much,” he says. “The SIS building embodies the best of our ideas, goals, and aspirations, and it sets the standard for American University going forward.”


Pioneering environmental activist Buckminster Fuller’s view of the world was, quite literally, earth-shattering.

In 1946, Fuller created the Dymaxion map: a flat map that depicts earth as one island in one ocean, without distorting the shape or size of the land areas and without splitting any continents. Fuller argued that, if people can visualize earth with greater accuracy, they will be better equipped to tackle challenges related to natural resources, migration, and international affairs.

Fuller’s ingenious map is depicted in a series of panels that encircle the top level of the new building. “Not only do the panels make the building pop,” says Joe Clapper, assistant dean of facility and administration, “they make an important statement about efficiency and innovation.”

Eco-Friendly Communities 

In the parking garage spaces will be reserved for carpool groups and alternative fuel vehicles—including bicycles. Nearby are two amenities that encourage a two-wheeled commute: lockers and showers.

Sustainable Design

LEED promotes a holistic approach to a sustainable design in five areas:


Energy efficiency

  • The 3,230-square-feet of photovoltaic solar panels on the roof—one of the 10 largest installations in Washington, D.C.—generate more than 120 kilowatt hours per day, enough to power the lights in the parking garage.
  • A passive solar air heating system warms air brought in from the outside, reducing the need for heating.
  • Natural daylight and operable windows in every office minimize heating and cooling system usage. Sun shades on the windows prevent solar heat gain in the building, keeping the building cool and comfortable.
  • Three solar hot water heaters on the roof preheat water for the restrooms and the espresso machines in the Davenport Lounge.
  • The LED-lit parking garage is the first of its kind in D.C.

Materials choice

  • Carpets, drywall, millwork, and flooring are all made from recycled materials.
  • Paint, furniture, and carpets are low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds), making indoor air safer and healthier.

Indoor air quality

  • Finished materials do not emit harmful chemicals (off-gas).
  • The large expanse of windows reduces the need for artificial light.
  • An atrium bio-wall of plants produces oxygen and acts as an air filter.

Water conservation

  • Two rain gardens on opposite ends of the building are designed to clean and slow storm water runoff in order to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The building boasts low-flow faucets and water-conserving fixtures.
  • A 60,000-gallon cistern collects rainwater for flushing toilets.

Sustainable site development

  • Rain water is filtered before it goes into the city’s storm drain system.
  • Earth from the excavation was not dumped in landfills.