Serenity + Energy Now

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. and en route to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (an altogether amazing and worthy subject of another article), I had an opportunity to visit Payette’s award-winning project at George Washington University – the Milken Institute, an incredibly rich and vibrant building, prominently located on Washington Circle.

Recipient of the coveted AIA COTE Top Ten Award, this building was also recognized by the AIA through its Honors for Interior Architecture; AIA/NY COTE Honor Award (2016), Boston Society or Architects Honor Award, to name but a few.


I found this building ticklishly difficult to photograph. Payette’s professional photographs are almost Piranesian in character in their heroic attempt to capture multiple architectural / spatial experiences simultaneously – and which are totally impossible to experience in acutality. But … (and more importantly,) I found the direct experience vastly richer. This is an intimate – and far from monumental – building. The architectural experience unfolds slowly for those willing to take the time to inhabit, move, pause, observe, and enjoy. On the day I visited, December 14, the “soft” spaces within and around the central stair-cum-atrium space were highly utilized by students deep in study, presumably for final exams.

This building has a soul.

Yeah, I know … that sounds really corny, but there is a palpable sense of joy in this space. The students – hard at work – were highly focused, and there was an eerie calm to the place. I have to believe that the architecture played a role in generating this positively charged atmosphere.

I spent most of my time observing and photographing the interior, but the exterior fully lives up to the successful experience of the interior (albeit in ways completely and qualitatively – appropriately so – different), to the extent that I really need to post a separate (photo)essay about the exterior and its role in defining urban space – the building engages the street and the city at multiple scales and in sophisticated ways. I especially appreciated the ground-floor arcade as an urbane gesture to the pedestrian experience on New Hampshire Avenue NW as it meets Washington Circle.

I would encourage any and all architectural tourists visiting the District of Columbia to put this building on their itinerary. You will encounter security staff at the entrance, but they were approachable and seemed more than willing to let me in to walk around freely.

Go see it. It’s totally worth it.

Shot on iPhone X, December 2017. Photographs originally published on Instagram.

For further reading:

Payette project page

City planners are increasingly aware of health benefits of clean, living landscapes – Washington Post, June 2014

5 ways to build health into your architecture, as seen at GW’s new $75 million public health school – Washington Business Journal, May 2014

Healthy Hogwarts Stairs – The Secret Life of Coach of DC blog, May 2014

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