Tuesday, November 3, 2020

BIG's da Vinci code of architecture comes to Hopkins

BIG is the name of the Bjarke Ingels Danish architecture Group that made it big with projects like the Hyperloop design for the United Emirates, Google headquarters a new tower at the World Trade Center site in New York (construction has started), the "courtscraper" Via 57 West in New York and the Lego House in Denmark, the home of LEGO.

The proposed 150,000 sf new JHU Student Center (Image: BIG)

Now a version of the Lego house will come to Baltimore in form of the new student design center for the Johns Hopkins University. 

"The Da Vinci code of architecture is somehow rooted in the proportions of LEGO bricks.” (Ingels)

JHU announced Monday that they had selected the design of the brash Dane as the winner of its design competition that had been announced in January of this year. 

The new landmark will will serve as a gateway to the Homewood campus at the intersection of 33rd and Charles streets. Currently the Mattin Center sits in the same space, a 2001 attempt of creating a gateway landmark with well known architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and their modern architecture. Its design was also the result of a competition. 

Planning for a new student center goes back to a 2012 study, the subsequent creation of a task force and the later feasibility study by Ann Beha architects. All identified the site of design award winning Mattin Center as the ideal nexus between town and gown. That sealed the fate of the not even 20 year old buildings. The three brick clad volumes of the Mattin Arts Center comprise only 50,000 sf, too small for Hopkins big dreams of a $250 million 150,000 sf student center. The Mattin and its complicated wayfinding through the mini-campus has also been seen as unsuccessful as a welcoming gateway building. According to a Hopkins Provost the Baltimore office of Gensler was tasked with finding replacement space for functions currently in the Mattin complex.
"As the needs of our student body have evolved, so has the desire for a different and dedicated student center taken hold.This will be a new kind of space for us—one that is not academically focused, but entirely social by design…It will be a site to which everyone lays equal claim and from which everyone benefits.” Ron Daniels, President Johns Hopkins University
Campus view of the new Student Center (Image: BIG)

If one follows Hopkins' read of the process, the selection of BIG's design was a democratic process that involved all stakeholders of the university. 
With more than 8,000 comments provided over the course of 25 feedback events—including focus groups, drop-in feedback sessions, and input-gathering during the Student Involvement Fair and the Welcome Back Block Party—JHU identified six key elements that the student body wanted to be part of the student center. (The Hub)
But nothing is reported about the three other design competition contenders or how their design looked. An inquiry with Hopkins did not yield an answer beyond the public Hub articles. Apparently who else competed with what design is intended to remain under wraps.  With that the jury and selection certainly didn't follow standard international architecture competition standards in which transparency is key. 

With the selection of a Bjarke Ingels design Hopkins follows the path of hiring highly regarded architects to create signature buildings on campus which has brought about memorable buildings on university campuses in America. In 2018 JHU selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to design the a new interdisciplinary center called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute.

The student center design, however has none of the BIG daring gestures that put the Danish Group on the map around the world. But the building will do what the Mattin center didn't do: Provide a inviting and open gesture at the seam between campus and city. After the recent total transformation of 33rd street east of Charles Street, a building in this location is less a gate to the campus and more of a transition to the city. The glass facades and modernist stacked rectangular blocks are a stark departure from Hopkins mostly traditional campus architecture of brick and stone. BIG as well as Piano would continue a pattern in which Baltimore selects a famous architect but gets a re-cast rather than an original breakthrough. The architecture repeats gestures already practiced elsewhere, in Ingels' case, it appears to be the LEGO house in Billund, Denmark. This pattern was also apparent in Mies van der Rohe's One Charles Center and Highfield House, Pei's World Trade Center, and Safdie's Cold Spring houses.
The 110,000 sf  LEGO House, Billund Denmark: "Guggenheim of 
white cubes" (Ingels)

Bjarke Ingels (born 1974) is different in that he is still an impetuous  young man when he comes to Baltimore. The BIG's history goes only back to 2005. Impressively, the list of projects is longer than what most architects can achieve in a lifetime. It can be expected that he or his staff will mix things up here. 
The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) seems to have an outsized impact in all it does. The Copenhagen-based design firm turns conventions and assumptions upside down and combines contrasting possibilities in outrageously bold, imaginative and playful ways. Projects like Via at West 57th Street in New York City and the Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant in Copenhagen are prime examples: the first a pyramid-shaped apartment building that defies the forest of rectangular towers around it, and the second a power plant that doubles as a smoke ring-blowing ski slope.(ArchDaily)

The 2001 Mattin Art Center to be demolished (Google)

Hopkins and Ingels, it should be an interesting mix, especially if it is true that the architect "has an outsized impact in all he does". Baltimore could use it.

The new Hopkins Student Center is scheduled to open in 2024. Its funding is said to be secured according to President Daniels. The Design will be reviewed by the City design review panel UDAAP this week.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA 

The Hopkins Student Center as seen from the east across Charles Street at 33rd Street
(Image: BIG)

Yeah. I mean, I think whenever you are making a new project, you are of course imagining and solving and building a fragment of the future. So whenever you're doing that, you have the possibility to push this little part of society, this little part of the city one step closer towards the kind of city we would want to live in.(Ingels)

Via 57 West "courtscraper" New York City (Photo: Kirsten Bucher)

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