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Behnisch Does Baltimore
German architect wins competition for UB law school
Courtesy University of Baltimore

A slice of Baltimore’s frayed urban fabric will soon be turned into a new urban gateway with green credentials, courtesy of Behnisch Architekten. Yesterday, the Stuttgart, Germany–based firm was named the winner of an international competition to design the $107 million John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore.

Partner Stefan Behnisch and colleagues bested big-league rivals including Foster + Partners, Dominique Perrault Architecture, Moshe Safdie and Associates, and SmithGroup Companies to win the commission, which is located on a prominent sliver of land near Pennsylvania Station and the Jones Falls Expressway.

“Stefan’s ideas about sustainable design and his creativity in responding to the evolving needs of higher education place him in the forefront of 21st-century architecture,” said UB President Robert Bogomolny in a statement.

The Behnisch team’s winning design presents a series of interlocking volumes around the building’s central vertical slice, which in turn connects to communal gathering spaces. “We wanted to avoid pancaking the program so you had a floor of offices, a floor of classrooms, and a floor of library,” Behnisch partner Matt Noblett told AN from the firm's Boston office. “Instead, we think of these as more vertical volumes that activate the community space. That’s one of the things that drove the whole design.”

Courtesy University of Baltimore

Known for its eco-conscious approach to projects such as the Genzyme Center in Cambridge and Toronto’s Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, Behnisch will bring green thinking to Baltimore as well. Noblett said that while the project is at an early stage, the firm is considering “a fairly glassy building” with multiple planted roofs and other green features. “We see both the inside and the outside as extensively planted, so you have a real experience of the outdoors within the building.”

The university’s decision, announced three days after the finalists presented their designs to a jury that included architects James Polshek and Frances Halsband, as well as critic Robert Campbell, was described as an arduous one. “Our deliberations were daunting,” competition advisor Roger Lewis said in a statement. (The Baltimore Sun reported intense debate over Perrault’s irregularly-massed design, quoting Polshek as being “disturbed by the discrepancy between the arbitrary and the rational.”)

The 190,000-square-foot project, which Behnisch will design in partnership with Baltimore’s Ayers/Saint/Gross, will rise on what is now a parking lot at the corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, making it a key node in the rejuvenation of the city's edge along the expressway. Completion is expected in 2012.

Jeff Byles