AN reached out to the firm last week but wasn’t given further information on Williams and Tsien’s thoughts about the recent announcement. In an email, the firm wrote: “We are aware of Johns Hopkins’s plan to build a new student center at the Mattin Center site, however, we do not know of any additional details regarding its development at this time.” The student center is one of several major projects that Hopkins has underway in Baltimore and Washington. Last fall it selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore to design the home for a new interdisciplinary center called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute. In January, the school announced plans to buy the Newseum in Washington, D. C., and convert it into a new home for its academic programs there. An architect for that project has not been announced. For its medical campus, Hopkins has hired William Rawn Associates of Boston and Hord Coplan Macht of Baltimore to design an addition to its school of nursing.
if i am reading the dean's letter properly, @JohnsHopkins is planning to demolish the fine tod williams billie tsien designed mattin arts complex to build a new student center. NOT HAPPY. pic.twitter.com/VzrGdd9Wkp— mark lamster (@marklamster) March 6, 2019
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Johns Hopkins University has hired Italian architect Renzo Piano to design a building for its Homewood campus in Baltimore that will “reinvent the ancient Athenian agora for the 21st Century.” Hopkins commissioned the Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genoa, Italy, to design a home for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute, an interdisciplinary center dedicated to “strengthening democracy by improving civic engagement and civil discourse worldwide.”
The Foundation announced in June 2017 that it would commit $150 million to launch a joint effort with Hopkins to create the institute, assemble a faculty, and build a home for it on the Homewood campus. The project is called the Agora Institute because one of its goals is to reinvent the ancient Greek agora, or public gathering place. A budget for the building has not been established. The target completion date is 2022.
At 81, Piano is considered one of the world’s leading architects, with major projects on five continents and awards such as the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the RIBA Gold Medal, and the AIA Gold Medal. He is the subject of a retrospective that opened this month at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Past projects include the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Shard skyscraper in London; and, with Richard Rogers, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. Piano has worked with the donor before to design the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, Greece.
Piano said in a statement that he accepted the commission because he has “great respect” for what the university and foundation want to build. This will be his first project in Baltimore, which has a “sister city” relationship with Genoa. “I was attracted to the Johns Hopkins project for its humanistic nature and also because I have always been interested in making places for learning,” Piano said in a statement. “I am very happy and honored to start this new adventure.”
University president Ronald J. Daniels said he believes Piano is the best choice to design the project. “SNF Agora Institute seeks to reinvent the ancient Athenian agora for the 21st Century,” Daniels said in a statement. “The institute will serve as a forum for scholarly research, the robust exchange of ideas, and for sharing strategies to repair civic discourse and strengthen democracy in America and around the globe.”
As “a visionary who understands the power of public space to foster conversation and create community,” Daniels said, “Renzo Piano is the ideal architect and artist to give physical form to the SNF Agora Institute.”
The institute is envisioned as an “academic and public forum” that will bring together experts in fields such as political science, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and history. Its mission, according to Hopkins, is to “forge new ways to address the deterioration of civic engagement worldwide and facilitate the restoration of open and inclusive discourse that is the cornerstone of healthy democracies.”
The building will house a director, 10 faculty members, 10 visiting scholars, and both graduate and undergraduate students. It will be the setting for a wide range of public events, including an annual conference bringing together “representatives of different viewpoints to examine contested public policy issues.” There will be lectures, symposiums, dinners, and performances.
A site for the institute has not been finalized, and Piano is expected to help make that decision, along with determining the building’s size. Given the nature of the project and stature of the designer, officials say, it is likely that Hopkins will want it to be in a prominent location facing out towards the city, rather than buried deep within the campus.
The City of Baltimore is hosting a citywide design competition to seek proposals for the redevelopment of McKeldin Plaza in downtown Baltimore. The call follows plans to demolish the existing McKeldin Fountain later this year and the Department of Planning will supervise the open competition.
This follows years of talk about redesigning the plaza, which is currently dominated by the 1982 Brutalist concrete McKeldin Fountain. The fountain stands adjacent to the Inner Harbor area and memorializes former Baltimore mayor Theodore McKeldin, who was instrumental in revitalizing the harbor area in the 1960s.
The Waterfront Partnership recently released plans for “Inner Harbor 2.0,” which will improve the area with new green spaces and pedestrian connections using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Waterfront Seattle as precedents.
McKeldin Plaza is an important fixture of Downtown Baltimore, and a designated free speech zone that was the focal point for the city’s Occupy and Black Lives Matter protests. In addition, the fountain is a historically significant holdout from the Brutalist movement, and its design attracts tourists and office workers from the surrounding area.
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore supports redevelopment of the plaza into an open space, while many local artists, designers, and architects support its preservation as a public art piece.
The fountain itself has fallen into disrepair, and according to the Downtown Partnership its mechanics are prone to expensive breakdowns that leave it non-functional for months at a time. However, maintenance and enhancements could also go a long way toward revitalizing the plaza while preserving the fountain.
Up until recently the Brutalist design of the fountain matched the nearby Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which was demolished in 2015. The theater was designed by John M. Johansen and opened in 1967, remaining in use until 2004. After its owners chose not to renew the lease on the building in favor of the newly reopened Hippodrome Theatre, the building fell into disrepair. A new high-rise residential and commercial space is now under construction on the site. Since the demolition of the Mechanic, McKeldin fountain is the only example of Brutalist architecture in Baltimore.
The fountain has its share of defenders, including Baltimore’s City Council president, who introduced a bill to block the demolition last year.
A Change.org petition calls for the postponement of demolition until a new design is approved. Others—including the fountain’s designer—are against the demolition entirely and want to preserve the site.
The Downtown Partnership plans to move forward with the demolition in Summer 2016 pending approval of permits. The fountain and the skywalk across Light Street were recently closed to pedestrians.
The architecture firms Ayers Saint Gross, Mahan Rykiel, and Ziger/Snead will oversee the project and finalize designs. Details about the public competition are still taking shape.