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Reinvigorating an Historic Academic Building

George Washington University Corcoran Hall Renovation
Washington, D.C., USA

“We discovered numerous challenges with existing conditions and the building infrastructure that could have potentially led to budget overruns, but HOK developed creative and thoughtful solutions that made this historic landmark shine again.”

Adam Aaronson
Director, Campus Development Management, George Washington University

Corcoran Hall on George Washington University’s campus in downtown Washington, D.C., enjoys a rich history.

Noted physicist George Gamow taught in the building from the 1930s to the 1950s, and it was in the basement of Corcoran Hall that the bazooka was invented during World War II. In recent decades, however, the designated historic building had begun showing its age and could no longer adequately support new methods of teaching.

Working closely with the university, HOK was challenged to design a comprehensive renovation that would create a modern and collaborative academic environment within this historic structure. Additions to the 1920s-era building included flexible teaching labs, research labs and SCALE-UP classrooms for the Department of Physics, in addition to general-use active learning classrooms.

A combination of formal and informal touchdown areas distributed throughout Corcoran Hall provide places for faculty and students to gather in relaxed settings with tables and chairs, soft seating, technology and glass marker boards. To activate the main corridor, the design visually connects the corridor to instructional and research spaces through glass lights in doors and full-height glazing at central meeting spaces. This puts the science of Corcoran Hall on display while bringing natural light deep into building. Alcoves off the corridor also include built-in seating, display areas and writable surfaces.

A new central monumental stair provides a prominent anchor and vertical connector linking physics research spaces and general-use classrooms on the upper floors of the four-story building with the Physics Optics Lab and Advanced Instructional Lab in the basement. This intentional distribution offers students convenient access to classrooms while maintaining a level of privacy and cohesion for the Department of Physics.


LEED Gold (anticipated)


47,500 sq. ft. / 4,415 sq. m.


Educational Planning
Facility Programming
Interior Design
Lab Planning


Comprehensive renovation of Corcoran Hall, the 1st building on GWU’s Foggy Bottom campus


Active learning classroom seats


Active learning classrooms