New home for science School: Bryn Mawr is dedicating its science center today. The building is one of the first in the country designed to introduce children of kindergarten and elementary school age to science and technology.

April 18, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Seen from a distance, the little building pokes through the woods along Northern Parkway like a child's backyard playhouse.

Once they get closer, visitors will discover it also has a serious side.

Along one wall of the main room is a bank of computer terminals linked to the Internet. The opposing wall is lined with child-size sinks for cleaning up after messy experiments. The floor bears the imprint of a logarithmic spiral, seemingly expanding to infinity.

This high-tech playhouse is the new science building at Bryn Mawr, a private girls school in North Baltimore.

Students, teachers and parents will gather today to dedicate it ,, as part of Bryn Mawr's celebration of the 25th anniversary of its lower school campus, which opened in the 1971-1972 school year.

Completed in January at a cost of $475,000, it is one of the first buildings in the country designed to introduce children of kindergarten and elementary school age to science and technology.

Deceptively simple, with a pitched roof and glass walls on three sides, the building contains an aquarium, a greenhouse window, living space for classroom animals and a deck for outdoor lessons.

To Peggy Bessent, the lower school director, it is a symbol of Bryn Mawr's commitment to encouraging girls to embrace science and technology as early as possible.

"Science is a place we encourage girls to take risks, where it's all right to be wrong and where you can safely take another turn," Bessent says. "Letting yourself take that chance, take that risk, is one of the very strongest ways we have to help girls develop their self-esteem."

To second-graders such as Clara Bowe, the building is science heaven. "I think it's fun, because you get to do a lot of experiments," she said, waiting for her class to begin. "There's a lot of room, and everyone has a task to do."

Every class feels as if it is outdoors, said Sarah Fiori, also a second-grader. "You can see all around," she said. "I like visiting the animals."

'Favorite subject'

There's always something interesting to do, said Elizabeth Palmer, one of many students who say the science center is her favorite place at Bryn Mawr. "Science is my favorite subject," she said.

The glass pavilion was built primarily for grades two through five, although students in kindergarten and first grade use it sometimes. To prepare for the dedication, each class has made colorful hats inspired by subjects they have been exploring in class: dinosaur hats for second-graders, fish hats for first-graders.

The day's events will also include a preview of a DNA molecule "sculpture and climbing toy" that local artist Stan Edmister is creating for an adjacent "science playground," trips to a newly planted "butterfly garden" and the release of two barn owls into the surrounding woods, where school officials hope they take up residence. It is all timed to help kick off National Science and Technology Week, Sunday through April 26.

The new building provides "a much larger space" for the children and computer access that was not previously available to the lower school, said science coordinator Bobbie Miyasaki.

"Our goal in the lower school is to make science fun and interesting for the children, to make them want to do more of it, to use their creative-thinking skills and stimulate curiosity.

"When children in the third grade make paper airplanes to learn about aerodynamics, now they can fly them inside. In second grade, when we study the weather, we can look out the window and tell whether the clouds are cumulus or nimbus."

The science building is the latest example of Bryn Mawr's innovative use of the building sciences to improve learning.

It is the first addition to the lower school campus, which was

designed by internationally famous architect Marcel Breuer, a pioneer of "open space" design.

Bryn Mawr's quest for architectural excellence was led in the 1960s by Edith Ferry Hooper, president of the school's board of trustees. She persuaded Breuer to design the lower school campus, applying his modernist theories about form and space to elementary education.

'Adjustable' school

Hooper once said her goal in hiring Breuer was "not to build just another lower school, but a lower school that was utterly adjustable to the future. The feeling was that architecture is just as much education as books or music, that a building is an educational thing."

To design the science building, Bryn Mawr hired Cho, Wilks & Benn of Baltimore, a female-owned firm that also designed the school's award-winning dance studio.

The architects decided to construct a freestanding building at the south end of the lower school's Melrose Avenue campus, on the crest of a hill overlooking Stony Run. The design team, Barbara Wilks, Jim Walsh, Lori Woods and Jacob Panikar, took advantage of the wooded setting to create what is essentially a one-room schoolhouse, and they lined it up with Breuer's masonry pavilions.

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