Special Citation - Excellence in Architecture for a New Building

Washington College

Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall
Washington College - Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall
Jury Comments
““. . . perfect execution . . . unassuming scale and massing fits well with regional ‘working waterfront’ vernacular . . . did a great job embedding sustainability as a driving force . . . small project, but truly innovative . . .””


    • Site – 3.5 acres / 154,571 sq ft
    • Building – 11,400 gsf / 7,353 asf
    • The building’s expansive glazing, warm wood finishes, and rich meadows complement the area’s working waterfront vernacular.
    • Semans-Griswold is the first academic building on the college’s emerging riverfront campus.
    • The site features pedestrian networks, outdoor classrooms, and interpretive signage showcasing the site’s history and the sustainable features throughout the site and building.


Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall (SGEH) is a model for an immersive waterfront building designed to connect users to nature. The building provides a home to the college’s signature Center for Environment & Society. SGEH commands a picturesque site on the Chester River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The site is part of the watershed’s coastal plain ecoregion. SGEH is designed to integrate the Chester River physically and programmatically. In addition to idyllic scenery, the river acts as a learning tool for environmental programs at the college and provides a regional hub for research. Unique to this building is a wet lab featuring a state-of-the-art river flow-through system that brings ambient water from the river directly to students and faculty to study river ecology and marine biology in a controlled environment. The capabilities of these labs empower students and faculty to conduct hands-on research of the Chester River and serve as a magnet for thought leadership centered on the environment.

Before Washington College purchased the site in 2009, the site was used as a petroleum fuel depot and agricultural chemical storage and distribution facility. The college worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment to remediate the land, but the site had not yet been restored to ecological productivity as a riparian buffer prior to SGEH’s development. The traces of these activities and subsequent remediation were legible in the topography of the site. Prior to the development of SGEH, the oil parcel had been excavated and filled and had topography that gently sloped down to the wetland at the water’s edge. The contaminated parcel was “capped” with a marker fabric and topped with clean soil. These remediation efforts resulted in a topographic shelf marking the historic edge between the two uses.

The college wanted to ensure the riverfront was also made accessible to the community through pedestrian paths linked to a larger “rails to trails” connection. These meandering paths roam through a mix of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees that work to restore the site to a productive habitat area. SGEH was designed to meet the holistic standards of the Living Building Challenge Petal Certification, which focuses on regenerative buildings that connect occupants to nature. A testament to Washington College’s waterfront renaissance, the net-positive building relies solely on renewable energy sources to operate pollutant-free year-round, producing over 105 percent of its energy intake on- site utilizing 300 rooftop photovoltaic solar panels and a ground-source geothermal heating and cooling system.

To meaningfully integrate biophilic design, the team hosted workshops with the design and consultant team, contractor, professors, and researchers. They began by talking about shared experiences in nature to develop a vision for how users would connect to the environment as they occupy the space. The team discussed the power of edge conditions: where city meets country, land meets water, and where ecosystems join to create inimitable and productive environments.

Project Team

Ayers Saint Gross; Gipe Associates, Inc.; Morabita Consultants, Inc.; DMS & Associates; CMTA, Inc.; DMS Construction Consulting Services