Tidewater architecture encloses high-tech science at St. Mary's


April 21, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

It looks more like the historic manor houses of southern Maryland than a classroom building for scientists of the 21st century.

But that was considered the best way to create a $16 million science center for St. Mary's College of Maryland, the state institution whose picturesque campus borders the site of Maryland's first colonial settlement and state capital.

Characterized by massive paired chimneys that double as fume exhaust vents for the high-tech laboratories inside, the science center takes its character from the indigenous architecture of the region.

The first major classroom building to be completed in 15 years on the 268-acre campus in St. Mary's City, it will be dedicated this weekend after three years of construction.

As part of the dedication ceremonies, which start at 11 a.m. Saturday, it will be named William Donald Schaefer Hall, in recognition of the governor's strong support for the college during his two terms in office.

Schaefer Hall is the latest of three buildings on the St. Mary's campus designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a Pennsylvania-based company that has been selected to receive the 1994 "Firm of the Year" award at the American Institute of Architects convention next month in Los Angeles. Others are an addition to the student library and a townhouse complex arranged in a crescent.

The AIA award is presented to a firm that has produced "distinguished architecture" consistently for at least a decade.

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's work ranges from large educational and cultural complexes to small residences set in extraordinary landscapes. With James Cutler Architects, the firm has designed a residential compound in the Pacific Northwest for William H. Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft.

"It is immensely gratifying to have buildings on our campus that denote such a high degree of design quality," said John Underwood, executive vice president for administration at the college.

St. Mary's College got its start in 1840 as a woman's seminary.

Now part of Maryland's higher education system, St. Mary's is a four-year "public honors college" governed by an independent board of trustees. It has 1,500 students, 70 percent living on campus.

The building houses the college's departments of biology, mathematics, chemistry and physics. It includes 14 instruction labs, 15 research labs, 5 classrooms, 3 seminar rooms, a lecture hall and 33 offices. A greenhouse and estuarine lab will be added later.

The exterior design incorporates elements of 17th and early 18th century Tidewater Maryland architecture, including brick construction, paired chimneys, peaked roofs and simple lines. The building also encloses a green that provides a new "outdoor room" for the campus.

The architects collaborated on the interior design with the faculty members, giving them a chance to shape their own work areas.

Karl Backus, an architect with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, said the design team wanted to create a building that was compatible with its surroundings.

"We attempted to take historic precedents, but not in a cartoon-like way, and make a building that evoked traditional construction techniques," he said.

As part of an innovative funding plan, St. Mary's administrators arranged a public-private partnership with the state, in which the college assumed responsibility for a fourth of the $16 million cost.

Architect Peter Bohlin and landscape architect Michael Vergason will present a symposium on the college's changing north campus tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the science building's Waldschmitt Lecture Hall. On Saturday, the science building will be open for tours from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Town Meeting

A public meeting on the future of Baltimore's University Center District will be held tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Davidge Hall, 522 W. Lombard St.

Maryland Institute

Expansion plans of the Maryland Institute College of Art received a boost this month when state legislators allocated $2.125 million to help the college buy an office building at 1401 Mount Royal Ave. and convert it to teaching and library space.

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