Education Case Study: Wellness In Action

(Photo: Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of GWU)

By Divya Natarajan, LEED AP
From the March/April 2016 Issue

Located on Washington Circle just a few blocks from the White House, the new Milken Institute School of Public Health was designed and built to be a living model of a healthy workplace. The $75 million signature building, owned and operated by The George Washington University (GW), was completed in May 2014.

Founded in 1821, GW currently enrolls approximately 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The Milken Institute School of Public Health has over 1,200 students—from nearly every U.S. state and more than 35 nations—pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral-level degrees in public health. Founded in 1997, the School of Public Health was housed in the medical center for its first 15 years. In 2010, the university committed to building a separate facility to house the School of Public Health with the objective to bring the seven departments of the school together in one location to encourage collaborative learning and interaction among the faculty, students, and staff.

Construction on the new facility began in 2012 and was completed in less than two years. The 115,000 square foot building has nine floors—seven floors above ground and two below—comprised of classrooms, conference spaces, student common areas, and faculty offices. In March 2014, the school was renamed Milken Institute School of Public Health in recognition of contributions from the Milken Institute, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation, and the Milken Family Foundation, the largest donation ever received by the university.

Commitment And Collaboration

GW is committed to building to a minimum standard of LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) on all new construction projects on campus. When planning for Milken Institute School of Public Health, university leadership wanted the building to focus on a healthy workplace as well as energy and resource efficiency that would align with the university’s long term environmental goals. Therefore, in collaboration with the design team, they chose to pursue LEED-NC v2009 Platinum certification.

As a public health education institution, Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW has created a comprehensive sustainability and wellness educational program using the building itself as a teaching tool. This includes an interactive digital display, student and visitor education, and research promoting environmental health benefits of green buildings. (Photos: Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of GWU)

“Sustainability is a high priority at GW,” says Lucy Lowenthal, project manager at Milken Institute School of Public Health at GW. “Senior leadership at the university aimed for LEED Platinum to demonstrate the university’s sustainability commitment showing that it is thinking beyond the present and into the future for our students, faculty, and community.”

GW worked with general contractor Whiting-Turner and architects Payette Associates Inc. and Ayers Saint Gross Architects, who collaborated with Paladino and Company for sustainability strategy. The team worked closely in a collaborative integrated process to ensure that everyone understood the overall goal and necessary steps to ensure the project would achieve the sustainability goals using LEED Platinum as a framework.

“We had a vision for what environmental goals this project could achieve, and so kept everyone on the same page through an initial eco-charrette followed by a series of integrated design meetings,” says Rachel Sowards, director at Paladino and Company. “The result of the collaborative meetings narrowed our focus to the sustainability features that mattered most to GW, that would benefit the building occupants, create an operationally efficient facility, and add value to the environment and community.”

Ultimately, the design team chose numerous complementary measures to create sustainable strategies for indoor and outdoor environmental quality. The LEED specific goals focused on creating synergy between energy, water, and resource efficiency.

As a progressive academic workspace, building features were designed to promote occupant wellness. Eschewing the usual separation between offices and classrooms, the project combines these functions on each floor of the building around a central skylit atrium to promote interaction between faculty, staff, and students.

Encouraging building occupants to maintain active lifestyles, an open, skylit central staircase not only visually connects building levels, but invites visitors, staff, and students to walk instead of taking the elevators.

A Chat With Lucy Lowenthal

Lucy Lowenthal
Project Manager
The George Washington University

What are your responsibilities at the university as it pertains to facilities?

I am the project manager for the Milken Institute School of Public Health reporting to the Dean’s office. I work particularly on new building projects. In this role, I help coordinate the various vendor relationships to ensure that projects are built to reflect the needs of the academic and research programs.

During your tenure as project manager, are there any notable developments that have impacted how you do your job?

In a university setting the timelines are long. Often the program needs will change during the project. This often necessitates the inclusion of an additional step in the design review process, thereby resulting in delays and additional expenses.

All faculty offices feature hydraulic standing desks that can be raised and lowered according to user preference. Students are provided with informal study and meeting areas, purposefully placed along outer walls with views overlooking Washington Circle. Other health related features include a yoga studio and two gym areas on the B1 level that houses student teaching labs for the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

“Some of the building’s most exciting sustainability features result from the ongoing healthy personal interactions between students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” says Lowenthal. “Impromptu meetings occur throughout the building intermixed in areas with spaces dedicated to study and quiet time. The second floor with the healthy vending machines, media room, and study areas is a great hub of activity. And, the views from the seventh floor offices and common areas are unsurpassed in Washington, DC.”

The optimized building envelope included high efficiency exterior wall systems, energy efficient windows, low-E-glass, balanced window to wall area ratio, and energy optimized HVAC systems including active chilled beams, mass air displacement, heat recovery, and central building automation, management, and monitoring systems.

The team selected interior materials and furniture with health in mind, such as low emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, carpets, and composite woods. A majority of the building materials were extracted and manufactured locally, reducing transportation impacts. Building materials were specified to contain high recycled content including 100% recycled gypsum board and recycled content in insulation. A total of 85% of the construction waste was diverted from landfills and recycled (1,230 tons of waste).

Other interior elements included low-flow plumbing fixtures, ENERGY STAR appliances, and high efficiency lighting design with energy saving lighting controls installed in offices, classrooms, and conference rooms.

Through integrated strategies, the building’s overall energy performance was improved by 46% over the ASHRAE 90.1.2004 standards. Milken Institute also encourages renewable energy through its purchase of Green Power Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), equal to 70% of the total building energy use in a two year period.

The facility’s central downtown location, in close proximity to a major DC Metro stop and five bus lines, encourage the use of public transportation. And, the building offers interior and exterior bike racks as well as shower facilities for cyclist commuters.

Landscaping was designed to promote aesthetics as well as environmental impact. Interior plantings decorate the space, and all of the landscaping uses native and adaptive plants that require little or no water.

Additional sustainable features include a green roof planted with sedum to reduce heat island effect. Rainwater is captured on-site, enhancing stormwater runoff management and helping to reduce potable water consumption by more than 40% below the standard for commercial buildings.

Collectively, these sustainable features and strategies contributed to Milken Institute School of Public Health achieving a LEED Platinum rating in May 2014, making it the first university building project in Washington, DC to be awarded this top rating. The project earned 85 of 110 possible LEED points.

“It was not a trivial decision to choose LEED Platinum,” says Lowenthal. “It stands as a symbol of our leadership and progress in the field of public health. We hope it will contribute to the accomplishments and innovative work that will come from its current and future occupants.”

Project Information

Facility: GW Milken Institute School of Public Health. Location: Washington, DC. Square Footage: 115,000. Budget: $75 million (total); $60 million (construction). Construction Timetable: March 2012 to March 2014. Facility Owner: The George Washington University. In-House Project Manager: Lucy Lowenthal, project manager. Architect: Ayers Saint Gross Architects; Payette Associates Inc. General Contractor: Whiting-Turner. Electrical/Mechanical Engineer: Affiliated Engineers Inc. Structural Engineer: Tadjer Cohen Edelson Assoc.

Product Information

Flooring: Armstrong Commercial; Forbo. Carpet: Interface FLOR; Johnsonite. Paint/Coatings: Sherwin Williams. Standing Desks: FirstOffice, an OFS brand. Roofing: Sika Sarnafil. Windows/Curtainwalls/Skylights: Pioneer. Doors: Curries/Pioneer. Elevators/Escalators: ThyssenKrupp.

wellnessNatarajan is senior project manager with Paladino and Company, a green building and sustainability consulting firm. Her background in architecture, sustainability, and business provides a holistic perspective on green building that benefits occupants, saves resources, and reduces operating costs.

Please share your comments below. To send an overview of your new construction or renovation story for consideration, send an e-mail to