Green Design at the US Coast Guard Headquarter

01
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Coast Guard Green at St. Elizabeths

Green organic roofing of the Coast Guard Headquarters near Washington, DC in June 2013
Construction near complete at the Washington, D.C. Coast Guard Headquarters, in June 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley

The U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters has a green roof. Built into a hillside in SE Washington, D.C., the Headquarters is said to have one of the largest Green Roof Systems in the U.S. Architects have designed an ecosystem that captures both the sun and the rain, allowing government workers natural light and the professionally-designed landscape to be irrigated by collected stormwater. At project's end, the ponds became less muddy, the vegetation more lush, and office workers less stressful.

About the Headquarters:

Owner: General Services Administration (GSA), built as headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Location: 2701 Martin Luther King, Jr., Avenue Southeast, District of Columbia, on the west campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, an historic 19th century psychiatric hospital
Dedicated: 2013
Design Architect: Perkins + Will
Architect of Record (roof): WDG Architecture
Landscape Architects: HOK after a master plan by Andropogon
Size: 2.1 million square feet within 176 acre campus
Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building: 1.2 million square-foot, 11 levels
Construction Materials: brick (blends with the Italianate bricks of St. Elizabeths), schist stone, glass (overlooking interior courtyardsand vegetative roofs), metal
Foundation: 1,500 caissons, up to 8 feet wide and 100 feet deep
Number of Courtyards: 8
Number of Green Roofs: 18 roofs and 2 parking garages; 550,000 square feet
Green Roof System: Vegetative Roof Assemblies®, Henry Company
Green Roof Type: Extensive and Intensive at 2% slope
LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold

The Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building was named in honor of Douglas Munro, who was killed in action at Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942.

Sources: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, DHS St. Elizabeths Campus, Greenroofs.com database; Coast Guard Headquarters Is Striking, Surprising, and Sustainable by Kim A. O'Connell, AIA Architect; All-Aboard the Greenroof Ship at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters by Todd Skopic, CSI, CDT, LEED AP, Henry Company, Greenroofs.com, LLC, January 24, 2012; U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Clark Construction website [accessed April 22, 2014]

02
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Organic Architecture Built Into a Hillside

The U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters on the St. Elizabeths campus is stepped into the hillside
The U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters on the St. Elizabeths campus is stepped into the hillside. Cropped U.S. Coast Guard photo via flickr.com

The site chosen to develop the new U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters was not only a contaminated brownfield, but also an undesirable hillside—the elevation dropped 120 feet. Clark Construction explains:

"The 1.2 million square-foot, 11-level office building is the central component of the 176-acre campus, as well as its most unique element. The structure is built into the sloping hillside and only two of the levels are entirely above-grade. The lower nine are built into—and extend out from—the hillside. The building consists of linked, quadrangles, clad in brick, schist stone, glass, and metal that follow the site's natural change in elevation and cascade toward the Anacostia River."

Building into the hillside not only provided energy efficiency for campus buildings, but also aesthetically realized Frank Lloyd Wright's concept of organic architecture by becoming part of the natural environment. The redevelopment of the west campus of St. Elizabeths, the National Historic Landmark asylum, was as big a project as building the Pentagon in 1943.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Clark Construction website [accessed April 22, 2014]

03
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Plant Locally, Think Globally

Rooftop plantings on a lower level of the Coast Guard Headquarters building in D.C.
Rooftop plantings on a lower level of the Coast Guard Headquarters building at the St. Elizabeths campus near completion on Feb. 20, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coline Sperling via flickr.com

The U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters was a major commitment to Green Roof technologies and sustainable development. The project was designed with both intensive (deep profile plantings, such as trees) and extensive (low growth vegetation) Green Roof systems. Landscape architecture and plantings for the project included:

  • 550,000 plug plants (3" square by 5” deep)
  • 17,000 shrubs
  • 900 trees
  • 150,000 square feet of sedum mats

A pond was built at the lowest level of the headquarters. Stormwater, which drains from the entire campus into low-level ponds, is recycled for the Green Roof drip irrigation system and maintenance of the landscaping. Check out Green Roof Basics for more information.

Sources: "Sustainability Highlights," Clarkbuilds D.C., Spring 2013, p. 3 (PDF); All-Aboard the Greenroof Ship at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters by Todd Skopic, CSI, CDT, LEED AP, Henry Company, Greenroofs.com, LLC, January 24, 2012 [accessed April 22, 2014]

04
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Green Roof Specifications

Green Roof of Coast Guard Headquarters building at the St. Elizabeths campus on April 30, 2012
Green Roof of Coast Guard Headquarters building at the St. Elizabeths campus on April 30, 2012. Cropped U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley via flickr.com

Modern Green Roofs are built with many layers, including waterproofing, as explained in Green Roof Basics. For the USCG Headquarters, the design/build team decided to create a waterproof membrane with hot rubberized asphalt. "The original spec for the Vegetative Roof Assemblies® (VRA) included a single-source warranty by the primary waterproofing/roofing manufacturer," says Todd Skopic of Henry Company, the VRA's manufacturer. "The project team decided to have the primary waterproofing/roofing manufacturer be responsible for the waterproofing system, and the roofing contractor be responsible for the vegetative components." Skopic also points out that specifications for the growing media (Rooflite®) were "adjusted in order to reduce the loads to within the structural tolerances for the roof structure."

The Rooflite was either crane-hoisted to the roofs or blown onto the roof with large pneumatic hoses. "Hardy Sedum mats are planted around the perimeter of most of the roofs," says Todd Skopic. "The effect of the Sedum mats at the roof perimeter provides a neat and tidy edge to the wilder grasses and shrubs in the mounded areas in the middle."

Onsite decisions and specification changes are realities on many building projects, but sometimes problems arise. One immediately thinks of Frank Gehry and Disney Hall, when contractors used too-shiny, heat-reflecting stainless steel panels that were not Gehry's specifications—a costly error in judgement. When a Green Roof doesn't work out, the problem is not always with the system but the installation.

Source: All-Aboard the Greenroof Ship at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters by Todd Skopic, CSI, CDT, LEED AP, Henry Company, Greenroofs.com, LLC, January 24, 2012 [accessed April 22, 2014]

05
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Sustainable Development

A glass-enclosed walkway bridges a courtyard to connect sections of the Coast Guard Headquarters
A glass-enclosed walkway bridges a courtyard to connect sections of the Coast Guard Headquarters building at the St. Elizabeths campus on Feb. 20, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coline Sperling via flickr.com

Walkable communities is a characteristic of sustainable development, and the Coast Guard Headquarters is designed to be walk-friendly and vehicle-free. In addition to the Green Roof Systems, sustainable design features include:

  • location near public transportation
  • pedestrian walkways built throughout the campus and as building connectors
  • glass walls provide natural light for interior spaces facing courtyards
  • the two 7-story parking garages are built largely underground
  • native trees removed during construction are replanted
  • recylced and local construction materials were chosen over components requiring long-hauling

The contractor, Clark Construction, claims that over 20% of all project materials were "salvaged, harvested, extracted, mined or manufactured within 500 miles of the job site, helping to further reduce the project’s carbon footprint."

The 2012 Olympic Park in London was built with similar sustainability. See How to Reclaim the Land - 12 Green Ideas.

Source: All-Aboard the Greenroof Ship at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters by Todd Skopic, CSI, CDT, LEED AP, Henry Company, Greenroofs.com, LLC, January 24, 2012; U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Clark Construction website [accessed April 22, 2014]

06
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Brick, Stone, Glass, and Earth - Natural Elements

USCG HQs stairs lead o a Coast Guard Headquarters building courtyard at the St. Elizabeths campus
Completed stairs lead into a Coast Guard Headquarters building courtyard at the St. Elizabeths campus on Feb. 20, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coline Sperling via flickr.com

The U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters is layered into a hillside that slopes down toward the Anacostia River. Natural construction materials were chosen to harmoniously connect the building's placement within its environment. The design/build team used

  • 500,000 bricks
  • more than 8 million pounds of stone
  • 300 miles of electrical wire, and
  • 55 miles of piping
  • 250,000 cubic yards of concrete

Clark Construction Group, LLC completed the Headquarters project under a design-build contract. Groundbreaking was on September 9, 2009 and offices were occupied at the end of 2013.

Source: U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, Clark Construction website [accessed April 22, 2014]

07
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A New Trend in Public Architecture

Looking over the Green Roofs of the USCG HQs, toward the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers
Looking over the Green Roofs of the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, toward the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. Photo from Green Roofs at GSA courtesy U.S. General Services Administration website

The architectural design of the Washington. D.C. Coast Guard Headquarters is specific for this site. The buildings and landscaping are both integrated into the hillside, as an extension of the land. The upper levels look over the Anacostia River, just before it joins and continues its journey into the Potomac River. This approach of integrating man-made architecture with the natural environment is similar to architect Frank Lloyd Wright's notion of organic architecture.

Kim A. O'Connell, writing for AIA Architect, makes note of the architecture "cascading down the hill almost as if Frank Lloyd Wright had transposed Fallingwater into a million-square-foot government facility." O'Connell notes this design trend as a welcome departure from other publicly-funded buildings:

"The building's contextual and sustainable approach to both land and water represents a marked departure from the way federal buildings were planned and sited in the past, a trend that resulted in the many monolithic, inwardly focused mid-century Modern structures that line the core of the capital city."

Source: Coast Guard Headquarters Is Striking, Surprising, and Sustainable by Kim A. O'Connell, AIA Architect [accessed April 22, 2014]

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Craven, Jackie. "Green Design at the US Coast Guard Headquarter." ThoughtCo, Jan. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/green-design-us-coast-guard-headquarter-177974. Craven, Jackie. (2017, January 28). Green Design at the US Coast Guard Headquarter. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/green-design-us-coast-guard-headquarter-177974 Craven, Jackie. "Green Design at the US Coast Guard Headquarter." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/green-design-us-coast-guard-headquarter-177974 (accessed November 24, 2017).