Homewood Grown

The latest additions to the Johns Hopkins campus take cues from the college's architectural past

Architecture Review

October 24, 2007|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

From the outside, the newest buildings on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus bear more than a passing resemblance to each other, with brick walls, white marble trim, sloping slate roofs and solid chimneys.

But inside, they couldn't be more different. One has a distinctly residential feel, with a central seating area, library, gallery and other formal spaces. It conveys comfort, hospitality, graciousness.

The other is a setting for interdisciplinary research, with concrete floors, exposed cable trays and pipes in the ceiling, a "high bay" laboratory containing robotic equipment and lounges designed to foster interaction between researchers. It conveys vitality, energy, change.

The wide range of interior spaces inside two buildings with relatively similar shells is one of the many surprises of the Alonzo G. and Virginia G. Decker Quadrangle, the $78-million, 9-acre addition that Hopkins administrators will dedicate during an invitation-only ceremony Saturday.

Much has been made of the individual elements that are part of this addition, including a visitors center, admissions office, engineering labs and much-needed parking and recreational space. In many ways, it is a new front door to the campus.

But an even more remarkable aspect of the project is the way these pieces add up to a whole, even though they're so different.

Any project with this many elements could have wound up feeling disjointed and piecemeal. But Hopkins planners and architects adopted a design approach that put a high priority on building a campus first, and addressing individual space needs second. They used an architectural language that takes cues from the most cherished landmarks on the Homewood campus, including Homewood mansion at 3400 N. Charles St. and Gilman Hall.

They paid attention to the way buildings feel and the emotions they trigger, as well as what they contain. The result is a multifaceted addition that helps Hopkins meet its space needs for the 21st century without sacrificing one of its most valuable assets - a strong sense of place.

Architecture critic Robert Campbell refers to use of a consistent design vocabulary as architectural branding. He notes that it can be found at Princeton, Harvard and other universities. With the Decker Quadrangle, Hopkins planners have demonstrated that they know the value of Hopkins' distinctive architectural brand and won't hesitate to build on it to create the spaces they need for future generations.

For this key location, "we didn't want something unrelated to Homewood," said Travers C. Nelson, program manager for the university's office of design and construction. "This is a new quadrangle. We wanted it to be a Homewood quadrangle. We clearly wanted something that grew out of the architecture of Homewood."

The Decker Quadrangle consists of three buildings on the south side of campus, where a 550-space parking lot used to be. They are: Mason Hall, a four-story, 28,000-square-foot visitors center and admissions office visible from Wyman Park Drive; the Computational Science and Engineering Building, an 80,000-square foot "academic loft," and a 604-space underground garage. The top of the garage is a 75,000-square-foot lawn, making it one of the largest "green"-roofed buildings in the Mid-Atlantic.

The quadrangle was recommended in a campus master plan designed by Ayers/Saint/Gross of Baltimore. One of three large green spaces on the Homewood campus, it's framed by Clark Hall and Garland Hall, as well as the two new buildings. The garage provides space for people at Hopkins as well as visitors to the neighboring Baltimore Museum of Art.

If Hopkins did nothing more than turn the parking lot into a green space, it would have been a remarkable feat. As designed by landscape architect Michael Vergason, the open space is not so much a rectangle as an oval, one-sixth of a mile in circumference for jogging purposes. It was intentionally rounded to feel different from the university's other quads and reflect the more "romantic" side of campus, facing Wyman Park Dell.

The challenge of designing the garage and the two new buildings on the quad fell to Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, an architectural firm based in Boston, with Tom Kearns as design principal and Steve Erwin as managing principal. Shepley Bulfinch worked closely with Hopkins to create buildings that, while not identical, feel like part of the same family.

Mason Hall pays homage to Homewood, the 1801 Federal-style mansion that was built by Charles Carroll of Carrollton and now serves as a university museum. Mason Hall was named after former University board chairman Raymond A. "Chip" Mason and his wife, Rand. The lower level provides public space for campus visitors, including a living room-like waiting area, library, gallery of university artifacts and auditorium for group briefings.

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