Fort Belvoir's USO Warrior and Family Center won a Presidential Citation for Universal Design from the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, AIA DC, Oct. 3.
The award recognizes facilities with an exceptionally accessible design, said Brian Pilot, project manager STUDIOS Architecture, the USO building's lead architect company.
"This is about creating a sense of home, relaxation and recreation for the wounded warriors and their Families, so it shouldn't be frustrating in any way; there shouldn't be any barriers to entry," he said.
The USO Warrior and Family Center opened in February as a first-of-its kind recovery and recreational facility designed specifically with wounded servicemembers in mind.
Pilot said the ultimate goal was to create a homey atmosphere, and earning this Universal Design award is added proof that the USO and design team did just that.
"It was important that the facility didn't have an institutional feel; it needed to feel more like a residence," he said.
Pilot and the STUDIOS team interviewed wounded warriors and their Families to help plan the design for the 25,000 square foot building, which includes a large, glass-fronted entryway with a stone fireplace, a full kitchen, theater, healing garden, online classrooms, patio and terrace -- much of it built with natural materials and opening into the outdoors.
"A connection to the natural environment was an important consideration that we learned early on in meeting with the wounded warriors, so that's why it has a lot of glass, it's connected to the outside elements, and so much effort was put on the landscape," Pilot said. "I think the entry experience is one of the most impactful. You come in and you have this 'wow' moment."
He also wanted to recognize the USO team for their vision and for helping STUDIOS to translate that into a design.
"I think the congratulations should really go to them for their commitment to make this building the best thing it could be for these wounded warriors and their Families," he said.
Ultimately, the USO Warrior and Family Center is a symbol of giving back to servicemembers and their Families, said Pamela Horton, USO Warrior and Family Center manager -- and the design and construction is a part of that.
"This was a labor of love for all of us to make this building," she said. "This is the largest USO that we've ever built from the ground up. When you look at it, you know that it's something different and it invites people to come inside and check out what's going on. That's what was important for us."
The center also won an Excellence in Construction award in September from the Associated Builders and Contractors in the Institutional Under $10 Million Category -- an accolade for the construction agency, Scott Long Construction.
"We were able to convey that vision to our partners in STUDIOS Architecture and Scott Long Construction. They were both able to take that and move it forward," Horton said.
However, the best reward for all of the labor is seeing servicemembers and their Families enjoying the new facility, she said.
"There's no pressure when you come here," she said. "You're going to someplace fun, someplace nice -- not just going to another appointment."
For more information on the USO Warrior and Family Center, visit
For more information on this year's DC AIA winners, visit