Gateway to excellence

Our view: New art school dorm signals city's architectural flowering

August 10, 2008

Anyone who doubts Baltimore's architectural landscape is leaping into the 21st century needs look no further than the Maryland Institute College of Art's stunning new Gateway building at North and Mount Royal avenues.

The drum-shaped dorm and student activity center astride the Jones Falls Expressway has turned heads for months as workers put the final touches on its gleaming glass and steel exterior. When it opens Aug. 24, it will mark the northern anchor of MICA's campus and the newest addition to a local skyline that is winning Baltimore national renown for innovative design.

The dorm will accommodate 215 students in 65 three- and four-bedroom apartments whose glass walls provide spectacular views of the city. It also houses light-filled studios for painters and sculptors, a black-box theater, exhibition space and a career counseling center. A beautiful atrium garden rises seven stories through its circular interior.

Buildings this impressive don't come along every day. The plans originated in an internal design competition for young architects organized by the Baltimore-based RTKL architectural firm. The winning entry, a young person's dream designed by other young people, popped up in the firm's London branch; the Baltimore office managed the project.

The $33 million Gateway, which was funded through a combination of public and private gifts and bonds, is the second major landmark commissioned by MICA in less than a decade. In 2003, the school unveiled the extraordinary $20 million Brown Center, a futuristic concrete-and-glass obelisk with a rakishly angled wall on Mount Royal Avenue. Both buildings project a welcoming sense of transparency and openness to the surrounding community.

Baltimore takes great pride in its rich architectural legacy. MICA deserves credit for carrying that tradition to new heights as a patron of the arts whose buildings are setting a world-class standard of excellence - and improving a community from the ground up.

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