Todd and I arrived early at our first D.C.-area appointment, so we wandered down a path leading out of the parking lot (where our Prius was in a “hybrid only” priority spot) and, to our delight, ended up on a sandy beach along the Chesapeake Bay.
Shedding our shoes and any stress we might have brought with us, we stepped gingerly into the cool, clear water, letting the tiny wavelets wash over our ankles as we dug our toes into the sand. It was the first real moment we’d had to stop and catch our breath on this whirlwind tour. And it was a great opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the bay before us.
Through a number of programs, and from various locations along the Bay, the foundation educates the public, beachfront landowners, and even farmers far afield about how their actions affect the Chesapeake Bay and what they can do differently to preserve this precious resource.
Walking through the 32,000 square-foot office space, it quickly became clear that the purpose of this building mirrored that of the organization itself. Home of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation since it was completed in 2000, the Merrill Center was truly ahead of its time in the field of green building, earning the world’s first LEED platinum certification.
But the building’s huge rainwater cisterns (providing for two-thirds of the facility’s needs), composting toilets (no smell, great fertilizer!), and geothermal heat pumps (sinking heat in the summer; providing it in the winter) aren’t just bullet points in the LEED paperwork. They’re highlighted throughout the Merrill Center in explanatory signs, material samples, and even artwork hanging on the walls — making all of these green practices visible to visitors. Except, perhaps, for the facility’s many motion, temperature, and sunlight sensors, which don’t make themselves known until lights and appliances begin to power up (or down) as if they were sentient beings.
In addition to all this green tech, though, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has taken some simple open-space concepts and created a comfortable, collaborative environment that feels spacious and airy while actually housing more desks (and people) per square foot than your typical office arena. And with the amazing bay views out of the large southern-facing windows and the sea air circulating throughout the naturally ventilated space, it felt like the ideal work environment. It was almost enough to make us want to hand in a couple résumés. (Note to editors: just kidding!)
Leading us on a tour of this gorgeous space (on a Sunday, no less) was Mary Tod Winchester, the foundation’s VP of admin and operations, who considers the building “her baby.” Below, she explains the vision for the facility and how it fits in with the organization’s mission:
More images of the Merrill Center: