Cancer center may get look of 19th century


September 01, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' "cancer center for the 21st century" may end up looking like a throwback to the 19th.

Hopkins representatives have kept images of the $129.7 million building under wraps, saying the design has not been finalized. But invitations to the Sept. 12 groundbreaking contain a rendering of a brick-clad building that would strongly echo four historic landmarks on Hopkins' East Baltimore campus -- the Wilmer, Billings, Marburg and Houck buildings.

Planned to open by late 1997 at the northeast corner of Broadway and Orleans Street, the Comprehensive Cancer Center will bring under one roof many Hopkins departments that treat cancer.

Notable features in the rendering include arched windows, a gabled roofline, and a grand staircase leading to Broadway. Upper floors are set back to create a series of verandas, where patients would be able to enjoy the fresh air.

With its colonnaded balconies and other old-fashioned touches, the building in the rendering looks very much like the long-gone Eudowood sanitarium in Baltimore County, or any number of other hospital buildings constructed around the turn of the century.

The choice of such nostalgic imagery would be a departure from the boxier Modern buildings that Hopkins has put up in recent decades. But it's very much in keeping with a local trend in which architects are deliberately making new buildings look old, including HarborView and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The rendering depicts one of several exterior designs under consideration -- not necessarily what will be built -- according to Hopkins officials and their lead architect, Odell Associates of Charlotte, N.C.

The building's size and shape are firm enough that contractors can begin site work, they say, but any decisions about the building's skin are still months away.

Described by Hopkins officials as a "cancer center for the 21st century," the building will include radiation therapy services, an outpatient chemotherapy treatment area, 96 inpatient beds, 16 operating rooms, a surgical intensive care unit and research laboratories. It will have six stories above ground and three below.

Michael Iati, director of architecture and design for Hopkins Hospital, said the exterior design is important because the cancer center will frame a new entrance to the medical campus and set the tone architecturally for future development.

Architects have generated designs that range from the purely historicist to "strikingly contemporary," he said, but much more study is needed before one is presented to Hopkins trustees for approval.

"The intent is that we're going to construct a modern building that is representative of the historic buildings that it's so close to and somehow still says Hopkins, while taking into consideration all of the other things it needs to do," he said. "The goal is for future buildings to be more sympathetic and sensitive to the original character of Billings, Wilmer and Marburg."

If Hopkins' exploration of traditional architecture represents an attempt to get away from the sterile imagery of the recent past and back to a more humane, dignified healing environment, it could be a welcome move. But designers would have to create a building that evokes Hopkins' proud history without becoming a caricature of the past.

In essence, the job is to find the proper image for Hopkins itself.

Benjamin Rook, chairman and chief executive officer of Odell, said the design team has been closely studying Hopkins' older buildings.

"It wouldn't be a repetition" of any one, but it might be "a composite," he said. "We're striving to reflect the best of all of them."

Dental Museum

The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry has a possible new architect: Grieves Worrall Wright and O'Hatnick of Baltimore. The state of Maryland, which has agreed to renovate the exterior of a three-story building at 31 S. Greene St. to house the private museum, recently broke off negotiations with the previously announced architect, the Vitetta Group of Philadelphia, when it couldn't reach agreement on fees.

It has begun negotiating a design contract with Grieves, which ranked second in the state bidding process. The firm's past projects include restoration of the Walters Art Gallery's 1904 building, Hackerman House and Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage.

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