American Geophysical Union Sidewalk Planet Display – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

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American Geophysical Union Sidewalk Planet Display

A brass and marble scale model of the solar system embedded in the concrete.  


In November 2019, the headquarters of the American Geophysical Union became the first net-zero renovation in the District of Columbia. Net zero denotes an ultra-efficient building that consumes only as much energy as is produced through renewable resources. There are many noteworthy things about the building, including its enhanced envelope insulation, photovoltaic power modules, direct current power, sewer heat exchange, smart glass windows, hydroponic phytoremediation walls, hydronic cooling system, and rainwater collection and cistern systems—all of which contribute to a 96 LEED score, the highest among all commercial buildings in Washington, D.C.

But perhaps the most overlooked feature of this highly impressive edifice lies on the ground outside, where a scaled marble and brass outlay of the solar system, showing the planets and their orbits around the sun have been faithfully preserved. The brass and marble scale model was part of the AGU’s original headquarters, and was installed on the sidewalks along Florida Avenue between 20th Street and Connecticut Avenue. All of the planets are represented— even Pluto, which was demoted to dwarf planet status, is present and accounted for.

Several other special touches from the original building were incorporated into the new version. The lobby welcomes visitors with the original terrazzo flooring and compass rose that beautified the lobby prior to remodeling. Mahogany panels from the original lobby have been moved to the lower level. Frieze panels now in the lobby and on the building’s facade were saved from the original building. Exterior bricks recovered during the renovation contribute to the highly attractive exterior of the new design.

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February 7, 2023

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