New dental school is edgy by design


UM-Baltimore plan is `a total replacement project'

May 20, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Local fans of cutting-edge architecture haven't had much to sink their teeth into lately, but a 10-story building planned for the west side of downtown Baltimore may change that.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Thursday to mark the start of construction for a $124 million dental school designed by one of the nation's leading architects, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Philadelphia.

As the most costly single building ever launched on the university's Baltimore campus, it represents a boost for revitalization efforts on the west side of downtown.

It also promises to make the University of Maryland, which has the oldest degree-granting dental school in the world, one of the most technologically advanced places in the country to learn about dentistry and one of the most pleasant places to receive dental care.

"This project has been a top priority for the University of Maryland, Baltimore," said president David J. Ramsay. "When this outstanding building is completed, the world's first dental school, and one of the most distinguished, at last will have a home worthy of its growing stature."

This is "the first total replacement project, in which an established dental school has constructed a new building for itself, since the 1970s," said professor and project manager John Hasler. "I think it's going to set a new standard that others will want to emulate."

The new home of the university's Baltimore College of Dental Surgery will rise on the north side of West Baltimore Street, between Pine and Arch streets. Scheduled for completion in 2005, it will replace the current dental school on the same block, Hayden-Harris Hall.

A new building is needed, university leaders say, because the current facility opened more than 30 years ago and is no longer adequate for modern dental education.

The 360,000-square-foot replacement structure will have two components, a long, glass-enclosed entry arcade along Baltimore Street, and a tower near the intersection of Baltimore and Arch streets. The tower will contain oral health-care clinics on levels one to four; instructional and administrative spaces on levels five and six; research space on levels seven to nine; and mechanical equipment on the top floor. A nine-story atrium will rise through the center, and the ground floor will contain the primary gathering spaces.

The architects added innovative elements such as "suncatchers" - tooth-shaped appendages designed to reflect light into the atrium - and incorporated plenty of spaces where students and faculty members can have impromptu meetings. The design will be conducive to learning in small groups, with many more conference rooms and fewer large lecture halls than the current building has.

The architects have also included teaching laboratories that will be able to take advantage of emerging virtual reality technology, such as computerized mannequins and other tools that will be able to simulate patient-care experiences without using live patients. "If we've done our job, we're going to be able to accommodate things that we don't even know about yet," Hasler said.

Anshen + Allen is the associate architect and Barton Malow is the construction manager. Mahan Rykiel is the landscape architect.

The school gets more than 100,000 patient visits a year, and its clinical areas were designed to be as comforting and comfortable as possible.

"Our starting point in thinking about buildings of this nature, whether it's a hospital or a dental facility, is that many people are there with some degree of tension or stress, our first obligation is to relax that tension as much as we can, using the tools we have," said lead architect Bernard Cywinski.

When done well, the architecture starts to become "a silent partner" to the activities taking place inside, Cywinski said. "The challenge of designing a building this ambitious is to make people feel that they're always in a place that's addressing their comfort and well being."

Another important consideration, he said, was the need to reconcile many different architectural scales, from the 10-story building on the city skyline down to the tiny scale of a tooth.

"This is an extraordinary machine, because it houses research facilities, state-of-the-art educational technology, and clinical spaces, and it takes on different values as one goes through these spaces because they're all different in their demands. ... As you travel through the building, you're going to have this journey of scales, from urban to intimate, and that gives the building its character."

Above all, he said, "we're trying to create an environment that has an ability to refresh people. That's what these buildings need, and that's what architects can bring."

Mount Vernon talk

"Mount Vernon Place: The Age of Cultural Evolution" is the title of a slide lecture that author, historian and former Sun art critic John Dorsey will give starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Engineers' Club, 11 West Mount Vernon Place. The price is $25 per person, and all proceeds will benefit a nonprofit group, the Friends of Mount Vernon Place.

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