Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The UB library recast: Architecture to get used to

Two times the University of Baltimore conducted a Abell Foundation funded design competition; two times the winner was Stephan Behnisch architects, headquartered in Stuttgart Germany. After the imposing UB Law School, the much smaller 54,400 sq.ft UB library is now also complete. A ribbon cutting too place last.
The back becomes the front: UB Bogomolny Library

For the first competition UB president Robert L. Bogomolny oversaw the proceedings. The UB Library now bears his name; this project was run under current UB President and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

Many Baltimoreans needed some time to get used to the checker board facade of the law school, there wasn't quite a building like that in all of Baltimore. Many still ask how the outer glass facade would ever be cleaned. But the law school wasn't just a facade, it is an all new building with innovations throughout. For example, an atrium that meanders through all 12 stories.

By contrast, the library is only a four story under $30 million building and essentially, it is the old Langsdale library with a new facade. The atrium here is shrunk to a still impressive new glass stair add-on, slanted and angled, a bit like the stairway at the UB student center, just better.

East West Section with Maryland Ave on the left
 (Behnisch  Architects)
This, now is a library of the future, i.e. multi-media.
We're calling it "the library of forever" because it can be modified to deal with the changes that are coming because of technology and the way people learn. (Kurt Schmoke to the BBJ)
There are still book-racks but also many ways to interact with electronic screens: Coil in solitary seclusion into a shell, with a laptop or an i-pad or collaborate with others. In many ways the upper floors represent an exhibit of the many ways how people like to work today. Alone and invisible, at long tables now common in beer pubs and start-ups, at traditional round tables or in a oddly shaped  glass enclosed mock conference room, resembling fish tanks or exhibit cases. A spot survey proved the hide out in plain view shells to be most popular. The stairway with its view of the sky and into the various floors is impressive, its solid light wood steps inviting, but students use the elevator.
No doubt an improvement: The back of the old Langsdale Library

The transformation of the University of Baltimore's Robert L. Bogomolny Library respects the memory and history of the original library design while simultaneously modernizing it to meet contemporary research, scholarship, archival and environmental demands. The original massing concept of the Library is substantially maintained – that of the “floating box” housing all of the library’s treasures. 
Inside, the Glass hall promotes interior circulation, brings daylight and views into the original floor plate, and creates new informal study and meeting perches within its enclosure. Such spaces reappear on the library floors as well, acknowledging a new era of library use that privileges learning and interaction.(Behnisch website)
The big urban design move is the relocation of the architecturally emphasized main entrance to the rear in a somewhat forced attempt to make the back become a front. The 2014 masterplan basically mandated it:
Renovation of the library will provide a new prominent entry on the west side facing what is now a surface parking lot. This reorientation of the face of the library will apply pressure to develop open space on the west side into a plaza/green space on campus.Circulation through the library's ground level will enhance the experience of walking from the Fitzgerald parking garage to the heart of campus, the Yale Gordon Plaza.
From the garage to the campus plaza: Emphasized connection
While it remains to be seen if the route from the garage to the Gordon Plaza justifies the move, the idea of a green-space between the Barnes and Noble bookstore and the new library is intriguing, especially if it were to include Oliver Street itself and the vast expanse of asphalt that forms the entryway to the Fitzgerald garage in some way. So far, the view from the stairway to the west brings mostly drabness into focus: walled parking lots, containers and the post office facility which UB has already under control.

The price for the new emphasis on the west facade is that the presentation towards Maryland Avenue and the Penn Station area remains somewhat mundane. Those irregular windows with the regular white molded facade panels work very well from the inside.
Molded panels evoking the plastic age. (Photo: Philipsen)

From the outside the panels are somewhat reminiscent of Eiermann facades, a 60's contribution of a German architecture professor who was famous in the Stuttgart and Karlsruhe area a bit before Stephan Behnisch's father Guenther became a figure of national fame. Eiermann was known for designing white molded tiles which adorned the German department store chain Horten. One comment on Facebook read:
"Too much, too soon and too often." (Anna Karras)  
That pretty much sums it up. University architecture should at times be daring but it also needs to be timeless in the sense that the dare will withstand the test of time without looking dated. The law school should have no trouble with that, I am not so sure about the library facade.

Klaus Philipsen

UB website

Views in the open stairway  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Hiding in plain view in work nooks  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Glass enclosed meeting spaces  (photo Klaus Philipsen)
There are still book racks (photo Klaus Philipsen)

traditional work area and gigantic ventilation ducts (photo Klaus Philipsen)

varied horizontal windows work well on the inside  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Aerial view of the new library and the law school looking east (Behnisch Architects, Matthiessen)

Architect Stephan Behnisch (left. Photo: Matthiessen)

West elevation rendering (Behnisch Architects)

The way how the glass wall and the molded panels meet is detailed more cleanly than it looks (photo Klaus Philipsen)

View from the little outdoor plaza (photo Klaus Philipsen)
Dressing up the the old Langsdale building outside, exposing it inside (photo Klaus Philipsen)

the fishbowl meeting spaces (photo Klaus Philipsen)

Color and sand in the yard  (photo Klaus Philipsen)

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