American University asked Ballinger to design a vibrant, modern building to unify their Life Sciences under one roof and showcase their commitment to STEM education and sustainability. Through careful planning and simple robust materials, we delivered a flexible, cost-effective home for the sciences that increases campus vitality, strengthens the school’s identity, and promises to support generations of American University researchers.
The Hall of Sciences expands and enriches the landscape of intimate gardens that characterizes American’s arboretum campus. Nestled into its sloping site, the L-shaped structure wraps a new rain garden courtyard, where native wetland plants help manage stormwater in the shadow of preserved heritage trees. The building’s curving front facade engages the campus core, defining a clear edge for a popular garden known as “The Beach.” Facing these gardens, glass curtain walls enclose the Hall’s open laboratories to display researchers in action and give American’s science programs a prominent presence on campus, despite the building’s relatively modest scale.
The high-performance curtain wall incorporates solar shades that bounce light deep into the labs without obstructing the scenic views. Along with efficient ventilation and other sustainable design strategies, the building’s envelope contributes to its LEED Gold rating, reflecting American’s environmental stewardship as the nation’s first carbon-neutral campus. In addition to the 18 specialized instructional labs for programs in Biology, Chemistry, Neuroscience, and Environmental Science, the Hall houses flexible classrooms to support in-person and remote learning. With direct entrances on three of its five levels, students can flow smoothly through the Hall with minimal disruption to ongoing research.
At the building’s heart, a dynamic commons zig-zags through its floors, linking classrooms, labs, and offices. A virtual hive of learning, this series of active spaces encourages disciplinary cross-pollination and fosters a shared culture. With generous windows and expansive interior glazing, the commons delivers natural and scientific illumination, showcasing courses like the “chemistry of cooking.” Its bright yellow marker-board walls facilitate post-class discussions and group brainstorming sessions while giving the building a distinctive identity. The Hall’s informal “science loft” quality is heightened by exposed structural concrete and building systems that make it easier to adapt as new technologies and new ideas emerge.
The elegant and economical design is a result of the seamless collaboration between Ballinger’s architecture, engineering, interior design, and lab planning teams. The Hall of Science is a flexible platform for future growth that gives this traditional liberal arts school the resources to conduct groundbreaking work in STEM fields.