For visitors, a more welcoming Hopkins

ARCHITECTURE

April 11, 2005|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

For years, prospective applicants to the Johns Hopkins University have found the admissions office in a three-story building that also contains offices of the senior administration, general counsel and equal-opportunity program.

There's a receptionist and lobby, but no real place to get oriented, no immediate way to sense Hopkins' rich traditions and heritage. And the '70s-era building, Garland Hall, doesn't make a particularly welcoming first impression.

All that will change by mid-2007, when Hopkins opens a four-level Visitors Center that's designed to be a new front door to its Homewood campus in North Baltimore.

"Right now, we have a lot of visitors but no place for everyone to go," said Travers Nelson, program manager for Hopkins' facilities management department. "This will give them a place to see what Hopkins is all about."

The visitors center will rise on the south side of campus, facing Wyman Park. It will be the frontispiece for a 9-acre "south quadrangle" that Hopkins plans to create starting later this year in place of the old Garland Field and south parking lots to provide additional room for classrooms and laboratories.

More expansion

Hopkins trustees last week approved a $75 million expansion plan that includes the visitors center, a four-story computational sciences building and a parking garage for about 600 cars. The garage will be underneath the green space framed by the new academic buildings.

The visitors center is part of a trend in which many universities are building free-standing structures to house their admissions departments and make their campuses more inviting to visitors, many of whom are potential applicants trying to see more than one campus per day.

"It has a lot to do with hospitality," Nelson said. "We are thinking of this visitor center in the same terms as you or I may think of our living rooms. ... We wanted something that conveys the essence of Hopkins when you first get there."

Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott of Boston is the architect for the buildings. Michael Vergason is the landscape architect.

Shepley's design for the visitors center calls for a 28,000- square-foot building with large windows, brick walls, a pitched slate roof and marble columns and trim.

Inside will be a 120-seat auditorium, alumni board room and areas featuring information about Hopkins history, current research and life at Homewood. The building will be open free of charge to anyone who wants to learn about Hopkins. Campus tours will start there. The admissions offices will be upstairs.

A traditional design

Although Hopkins has flirted in recent years with buildings that have a contemporary design, this one will be more traditional in character. Its lines and symmetry are reminiscent of Homewood House, the 1801 mansion visible from the 3400 block of N. Charles St. Like Homewood, the visitors center will have a large sloping lawn in front of it.

The new quadrangle and underground parking were recommended in a master plan for the Homewood campus that Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore designed several years ago. Nelson said the concept of building a separate visitors center came from university President William Brody.

From the start, Nelson said, campus planners wanted the visitors center's design to be consistent with the neo-Georgian buildings already on campus.

"We didn't want a glass-and-steel building," he said. "We didn't want something that conveys one feel or style and then have people go out on campus and experience something different. It's a relatively consistent campus. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part it hangs together."

The new building is "steeped in Hopkins tradition, but it is not a duplicate of anything," Nelson said. "It is not a traditional building, but it looks very comfortable on a traditional campus."

East Baltimore renewal

Redevelopment plans for the area north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus in East Baltimore will be the subject of a free public forum at noon Wednesday at Hopkins' Downtown Center, Charles and Fayette streets. Jack Shannon, executive director of the East Baltimore Development Initiative, will lead the discussion, which is sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.

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