The Wright inspiration on campus $26 million addition: Architects take a quiet design approach in expansion that will nearly double the physical plant of Villa Julie College, which has experienced a surge in enrollment.

Urban Landscape

April 25, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

VILLA JULIE College has begun a $26 million expansion that will practically double its physical plant -- and its architects have looked to the land-hugging buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright to help the addition nestle into the bucolic setting.

Responding to a critical need for more space caused by a recent surge in enrollment, the Baltimore County college plans to open the new academic and recreational facilities by fall 1997.

The two-building complex has been designed by Ziger Snead Architects to contain classrooms, study areas, faculty offices, a gymnasium, art gallery, student center and theater/auditorium for 400. In addition, the college will renovate its library and build science labs.

The last new classroom building opened in 1986. Since then, the student population has increased by 60 percent -- to approximately 1,800 full- and part-time students, said college president Carolyn Manuszak.

"We were horribly overcrowded," Ms. Manuszak said. "The new buildings were absolutely necessary."

At the same time, she said, the college has tried to be a good neighbor to the community and grow in a controlled way.

"We wanted to maintain the human scale that young high school graduates need," she said. "We believe you learn more when you're in beautiful surroundings."

Located on a 60-acre campus off the 1500 block of Greenspring rTC Valley Road in Stevenson, Villa Julie was founded in 1947 as a one-year professional secretarial school and received state approval in 1954 to operate as a two-year college.

In 1984, it became a four-year college, offering a bachelor's degree in computer information systems. This year, it added a master's degree program in advanced information technologies.

The latest addition will consist of two brick buildings, each containing about 50,000 square feet of space, with lead-coated copper roofs.

Architect Steve Ziger said the buildings pick up the design vocabulary of the existing campus -- low structures with brick walls and broad roof overhangs.

"The whole project is about connections," he said. "We're connecting everything -- the buildings to the landscape, the buildings to each other."

Mr. Ziger said the design team studied the early "prairie style" buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright to determine the best way to fit the horizontal structures into the rolling landscape. He added that no part of the expansion will be more than 35 feet high.

"Because of the height limit, half of the facility is underground," he said. "The land works beautifully for that."

He added: "We never set out to create monumental buildings. It's not an ego statement."

The architects worked with landscape architect Michael Vergason to create a variety of outdoor spaces.

They also tried to keep down the apparent scale of the addition by wrapping the largest spaces, such as the gymnasium, with lower-scaled volumes that have broad roof overhangs.

"We've tried to create quiet, human-scaled buildings because of the character of the valley and the character of the existing campus and the nature of the college itself," Mr. Ziger said.

Even though the architects took a quiet design approach, Villa Julie's expansion remains controversial to those who oppose development within the National Register's Green Spring Valley historic district.

The Valleys Planning Council, a citizens group, tried to block the project but was unsuccessful.

The Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority helped finance construction by authorizing the sale of up $12.2 million in bonds. Other funds have come from a combination of public and private sources.

John Bernstein, executive director of the planning council, said he is not particularly concerned about the design of the new buildings -- which he characterized as "blameless college architecture" and praised for not being ostentatious. But he said many council members are troubled by the size of the expansion.

"The fact of their increased presence -- you can't get around it by having attractive buildings," he said. "We're talking about putting a Band-Aid on what many people regard as a serious wound."

Ms. Manuszak said the college's administrators have worked hard to make sure the expansion will have as little visual impact as possible on the community at large. At the same time, she said, the college must be able to keep growing and improving in order to meet the educational challenges of the future.

"We thought about this carefully from both an aesthetic and an educational point of view," she said.

"When you drive by the campus, you'll hardly know it's there."

In deliberations with the county, the college has agreed to limit enrollment to 2,500 full- and part-time students, although board members have reserved the right to revisit that issue in the future.

"We have no desire to be a big college," said Virginia Tanner, director of public relations. "What we stress is small classes and individual attention. That's why our students get jobs after graduation."

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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