JHU arts center is begun Groundbreaking: A project that will transform a wooded knoll at the Johns Hopkins University into a student arts center is under way.

October 13, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

In the dense shade of trees soon to be cleared for a new student arts center, the Johns Hopkins University celebrated the facility's groundbreaking Saturday -- and formally named yesterday one wing of the ambitious $17 million project.

Speaking of the "cybercafe" and the theater, dance, painting, music and debate spaces planned for completion in 2000, Dean Larry Benedict told the throng at the groundbreaking that the center will foster "a true sense of community and a tangible link to the Homewood neighborhood."

The modernist low-slung building, arranged in three wings in a triangular courtyard design, will be visible from its most public border, North Charles Street. The site is a wooded knoll near 33rd Street directly behind a sidewalk statue of school founder Johns Hopkins.

The 50,000-square-foot complex will be named for an unidentified graduate who donated about $7.5 million. The board of trustees voted yesterday to name one wing for longtime trustee Morris Offit.

New York architect Billie Tsien said the central theater building and the two wings are "cut into the surface of the ground." Tsien, 49, said one footpath will lead into a second-level terrace.

Tsien said she hopes that the complex, with its brick first floor and frosted glass walls which will be lighted at night, will look like a "welcoming lantern."

Injecting a note of humor into the ceremony, university President William R. Brody said jokingly that he was looking forward to a "virtual cappuccino in the cybercafe" in the next century.

Zachary Pack, 20, student body president and a member of the class of 2000, said, "We only wish it were opening sooner."

Because a new campus bookstore will open on the northeast corner of Charles Street and 33rd Street in about two years, Pack said, "The center of campus is moving in that direction."

Describing himself as "a Frank Lloyd Wright fan," Pack added, "I really like the design because of the way it works into the land."

However, it will come at some cost to the land.

"The majority of the trees in that grove are going to be gone," city environmental planner Beth Strommen said. "We're still working on a permit to comply with the city's tree preservation laws."

She said the fate of trees between Charles Street and the arts center remains unresolved.

Steve Campbell, a university facilities official, said in a statement that his office is developing a plan to limit unnecessary cutting and create new plantings. "We have been very upfront on the fact that a lot of the trees that are now on this spot will have to come down. "

The university has hired a Gaithersburg company, The Care of Trees, to provide tree preservation services. "We prepare for the shock before the yellow monster shows up," said Chris Cowles, 45, who is overseeing the Hopkins plan to protect about 50 mature trees -- mostly beeches and a few tulip poplars -- from the effects of uprooting many of their neighbors.

"Trees are not pieces of concrete and steel. They can't be replaced," said Cowles. He likened losing part of the root system to "breathing with half of your lungs."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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