The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) operates out of a striking new headquarters located near the northwest corner of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The building, designed by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, is punctuated by soaring dovelike wings that symbolize the United States’ commitment to international peace and inspire the world to pursue nonviolent solutions rather than armed conflict. This new headquarters also provides an example of best practices for how government agencies can move from leased to owned space, which—when combined with new facility-generated revenues—can prove cost-effective for workspace needs.
A unique, nonpartisan creation of the U.S. Congress, USIP is a quiet, consistent supporter of and convener in the global network of international peace-building. This small, independent, quasi-federal institution prevents, mitigates, and resolves violent conflicts in key locations overseas where such conflict threatens U.S. strategic and international security interests by engaging directly in conflict zones and providing cutting-edge analysis, training, and resources to those working for peace.
The story of the establishment of the institute’s symbolic permanent headquarters adjacent to the U.S. Department of State is more than just an interesting example of institutional history. The financing behind the headquarters, which was completed in 2011, says a great deal about how the world of publicly funded construction is changing and dramatizes how federal budget austerity has inspired creative private/public partnerships to deal with costs by innovative means.
USIP’s vision for its new headquarters began in 1992 when Congress authorized the institute to raise private funds for a permanent headquarters building. Congress recognized that leased space in downtown D.C. would not be cost-effective in the long term, given the training demand from military and civilian personnel, international stakeholders, and U.S. government and nongovernment mediators. Thus, Congress authorized the U.S. Navy to transfer two acres (0.8 ha) used for parking to USIP to serve as the site of the institute’s future headquarters.
USIP’s global peace-building operations are funded through annual federal appropriations. In 2004, Congress appropriated $99 million for a new headquarters. The remainder of the needed funding was to be developed privately. What is unique about USIP’s real estate strategy is that it used a mix of federal funding, $30 million raised from private donors, and a $50 million bank line of credit to enable the construction of the 254,000-square-foot (23,500 sq m) complex.
Safdie’s architecture created open interior spaces with sweeping views of the Lincoln Memorial, the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery, and the National Mall, allowing USIP to charge market rates for rental of its public spaces, which are available during the day as well as for approved after-hours receptions and meetings. USIP’s real estate strategy has proved to be an ideal model for the transition from leased to owned space. It has enabled the institute to leverage facility user fees to cover the annual cost differential between former leasing costs and the new building’s operating costs.
All of the design, engineering, and construction were accomplished through private sector delivery, which was both on time and on budget at $153 million. The USIP headquarters achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for new construction, as well as an Energy Star rating of 92, which makes it a national model for sustainable governmental buildings.
USIP used the Design Excellence process, which the U.S. General Services Administration started in the early 1990s, and used a national peer review that led to the ultimate selection of Safdie as the architect for the headquarters. In its approval of USIP’s design, the Commission of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., noted that the building was “an important architectural expression of Americans’ aspiration to build a more peaceful world.” The design combines a neoclassic working structure as the base of the five-story building, using concrete, glass, and stone, with a light, transparent, undulating sculptural roof that floats over the offices and spaces used for conferences and international negotiations. The figurative dove-shaped wings of the building inspire the country—and the world—to rise to meet the challenges of international peace making.
During the planning process for the new headquarters, Congress also authorized the navy to transfer to USIP administrative jurisdiction over Buildings 6 and 7 of the navy’s historic Potomac Annex site. USIP is implementing a redevelopment plan for the renovation, use, and maintenance of these two 100-year-old surplus federal properties adjacent to the USIP campus. Reactivation of the former navy buildings for national security–related education and training purposes, applied technology, and logistics workspace will increase the USIP campus to three buildings totaling 280,000 square feet (26,000 sq m) with a combined land area of more than three acres (1.2 ha). USIP’s redevelopment of the properties, which should be completed by 2016, will restore functionality to previously vacant federal building space by using available revenues and private sector delivery to further the national security programs of the institute.
Ultimately, the location and unique architecture of the headquarters have raised the profile of the United States Institute of Peace’s national security mission. All in all, the project presents a win-win model for the taxpayer—and for those concerned about peace building around the world.
David Winstead is an attorney with Ballard Spahr LLP, a former public buildings commissioner of the U.S. General Services Administration, and at-large chair of ULI’s Public Development and Infrastructure Council. Michael Graham is senior vice president for management and chief financial officer with the United States Institute of Peace.