Award-winning design brings dance studio to lifeWhen word...


October 29, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Award-winning design brings dance studio to life

When word got out this week that the new dance studio at Bryn Mawr School has been named Baltimore's best building, the students who take classes there were not surprised.

They've been dancing with delight since the building opened in September.

Now their enthusiasm has been affirmed by three out-of-town architects, who served as judges for the 1992 design awards program sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

After reviewing 59 designs by local architects, they chose Bryn Mawr's Centennial Hall Dance Studio and Theatre Lobby to receive the Grand Design Award.

"Everybody who sees it loves it," said Barbara Chase, headmistress of the private school in North Baltimore.

"The space is so uplifting, you walk in and you really want to jete across the room," she said.

"It makes you feel like dancing," said Angie McAphee, an 11th-grader. "Instead of, 'Oh no, we have dance class again,' it inspires you to dance. It makes you feel liberated."

The judges' verdict: "Live, elegant, joyful, spare, light-filled and entirely appropriate to making a space for dance."

Bryn Mawr's soaring dance studio replaces a smaller and less-visible facility on the 26-acre campus at 109 W. Melrose Ave.

Made of glass, steel, stone and artificial stucco, it provides room for middle- and upper-school students who take dance classes once a week, as well as members of Bryn Mawr's Varsity Dance Co., which performs as part of the athletic department.

The designer was Cho, Wilks, Benn Architects Inc., a firm that waltzed off with two other AIA awards. As part of the same project, the firm designed a new southwest entrance for Bryn Mawr's campus and an expanded lobby for Centennial Hall, a 470-seat theater that opened in 1987.

Used for receptions and other gatherings, the lobby is connected to the dance studio by a covered walkway that ties into the school's network of sheltered paths and common spaces.

Built by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the whole complex cost about $750,000.

Like the dancers who pirouette on its gleaming oak floor, the studio performs a delicate balancing act. It is at once simple and complex, floating and anchored.

Much of its impact comes in the architects' juxtaposition of a modern aesthetic, as characterized by the clean lines of slender steel columns, with traditional elements found elsewhere on campus, including a pitched shingle roof and fieldstone walls.

The studio's shedlike form is deceptively simple. Its profile echoes the almost-agrarian character of other pitched-roof structures nearby and conforms to the landscape. But its details are skillful and refined, hinting that something very skillful and refined is taking place inside.

At night, it comes aglow with light.

Credit for the design goes to Barbara Wilks, James Walsh, Rima Namek and Dianne Rohrer. They've shown that good design need not cost any more than bad design -- and that even institutions on a tight budget can achieve it. They've also shown how much good architecture can enhance the learning process.

"To dance well you have to have a good attitude, and to have a good attitude you have to like where you are," said Maura Eagan, a senior and member of the Varsity Dance Co.

"It seems strange to say a building is friendly, but it is," she said. The Orchard Street Church will be added to Baltimore's official landmark list if Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation approves its nomination at a meeting tomorrow. The 1882 building, at 510 Orchard St., has been converted to a new headquarters for the Baltimore Urban League and will be rededicated Nov. 6.


Built projects: Trahan, Burden & Charles world headquarters, Charles and Chase streets, by Ziger Hoopes & Snead; and Central Light Rail Line stations and maintenance facility, by Cho, Wilks, Benn.

Built projects, honorable mention: Allied Health Building at Lombard and Penn streets, by Ayers Saint Gross Inc.; Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Engineering Building at Morgan State University, by Richter Cornbrooks Gribble; and The Gopher Hole, a student pub at Goucher College, by Cho, Wilks, Benn.

Unbuilt project: New Urban Housing for Pittsburgh, by Peter Fillat and Randy Sovich of Studio Wanda.

Urban design: New Urban Housing for Pittsburgh, Studio Wanda.

25-year award: One Charles Center; Sun Life Building; Mount Royal Station at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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