New MICA building would rise 12 stories

MICA group picks design that goes in circles

Studios, dorm space would be 12 stories tall

October 26, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

A12-story building that combines elements of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Habitat '67 residences in Montreal and the Hampton Plaza commercial center in Towson got the nod yesterday as the favored design for the next major addition to the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Two designers from the London office of RTKL Associates, Christy Wright and Grant Armstrong, won an international design competition that RTKL and MICA launched in August to generate ideas for a $20 million, 200-unit residence hall and artists' studio complex at 1601 Mount Royal Ave., near North Avenue.

The plan by Wright, 31, and Armstrong, 29, was selected over designs submitted by top young designers from six other offices of RTKL, Maryland's largest architectural firm, with branches around the world. Other teams came from Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Madrid to present their proposals to a five-member jury at MICA yesterday morning.

"We pushed the envelope," said college President Fred Lazarus, who served on the jury that selected the winners. "We really got some creative thinking. ... It's terrific to hear the conversations, the dialogue going on among our students."

Because any structure built at 1601 Mount Royal Ave. will be visible to thousands driving by daily on the Jones Falls Expressway and North Avenue, the college asked designers to create a structure that would be a visual gateway to the campus and indicate that student artists live and work inside.

"You'll see it from above. You'll see it from ground level. It's a 360-degree building," Lazarus said. "It has to have staying power."

While all seven designs contained good ideas, the London team's solution "really emerged as the unanimous favorite" of the jury, said RTKL chairman and juror Paul Jacob. He called it a "unique and creative resolution to the urban context" and a clear and "playful expression" for a complex program of spaces.

The design by Wright and Armstrong calls for the apartments and studios to rise above a two-story base containing a theater, coffeehouse, galleries and other public or semi-public spaces. The corner of Mount Royal and North avenues would become a public plaza.

The housing would be divided into three curving segments, rising seven, eight and nine stories above the base. These curving sections would form a circle in plan and frame a central community space - a configuration reminiscent of the spatial organization of Hampton Plaza in Towson. From certain angles, the tower looks like an oversized stack of poker chips that has been hollowed out and cut into slices, with the outer edge serving as the housing.

All of the student apartments would face out to the city, and they would have access from circular walkways on the courtyard side - much the way the New York Guggenheim's spiraling ramp provides access to its galleries.

The individual apartments would be distinguished by different exterior materials and colors and would have distinctive shapes that resemble boxes stacked on top of each other - much like Moshe Safdie's Habitat '67 or his Coldspring New Town community in Baltimore. In several drawings, the outer walls have a sponge-like quality that recalls architect Steven Holl's recently completed dormitories for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The design also includes a 10-story tower on the North Avenue side that would contain studio work space for artists. Clad in a "translucent concrete" material that is like alabaster, the tower would be accessible from the same walkway system as the apartments but would not be curved.

The designers recommended that another material unusual in Baltimore, Corten steel, be used for a long wall along North Avenue and for the exterior of the "black box" theater. Corten steel is a material that oxidizes to a rusty-red finish soon after the building is complete and stays that way.

Models and renderings of the seven designs will be on display in the college's Brown Center, 1401 Mount Royal Ave., through Nov. 8. The college is also holding three forums this week to give students, faculty, staff and community members a chance to express their opinions about the designs.

The college's board of trustees will meet on Friday to determine how to proceed with design and planning for the residence hall, based on yesterday's presentations and reaction during the three forums. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring and be completed by August 2006.

College officials have said from the start that the trustees, not RTKL, will select a final design, and that there is no guarantee that any of the entries will be built as submitted. According to a fact sheet distributed by the college, "MICA is not committed to using any of the designs submitted in the competition, and the Board will determine how to proceed based on what is best for the College and the long-term needs of MICA students."

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