Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 22, 1995

Remsen Hall Rededicated After $15 Million Overhaul

By Emil Venere /
Office of News and Information

     Architects faced with the difficult task of renovating
Remsen Hall had a major obstacle to overcome: how were they going
to install a modern ventilation system without sacrificing
valuable classroom and research space?

     One idea was to put the ventilation units on the third floor
and poke holes in the 70-year-old building so that air ducts
could be inserted. But that option was soon abandoned. In
addition to consuming much of the third floor, it could have
weakened the building's structure.

     The solution, said chemistry professor Craig Townsend, was
brilliant. Build a completely separate structure and stick it in
the middle of the U-shaped building, joining the two wings and
housing the high-tech ventilation system in this three-story
addition, now commonly called "the infill."

     It was an elegant and functional way out of the problem,
providing an efficient and aesthetically pleasing place in which
to house the huge ventilation units, while also adding some new
space for labs, classrooms and offices.

     Remsen, the Homewood campus's second oldest building behind
Gilman Hall, has been brought up to speed with the university's
most modern research facilities, said Townsend, who was chairman
of the renovation committee.

     And all this modernization has not compromised Remsen's
classic look and turn-of-the-century feeling--its slate-tiled
gable roof, ornate interior cornices, arching windows and
expansive lecture theaters.

     "This is a wonderful room to teach in," said Townsend,
standing in 233 Remsen, a lecture room with steeply sloped
seating and the original demonstration table. "I love it. You
have a close sense of the class."

     Meanwhile, down in the bowels of the infill, "air handling"
units the size of city buses breathe efficiently. They draw air
from two large outdoor inlets and pump it into labs, offices and
classrooms. All exhaust from the labs is collected and ejected
from two chimneys. But a portion of the air for other
non-laboratory work spaces is recycled back into the building,
saving energy.

     All this mechanical respiration has breathed new life into
Remsen Hall, where the ghost of Ira Remsen still lingers. The
ashes of Hopkins' first professor of chemistry and second
president are literally housed in the building--behind a brass
tablet in the wall of a stairwell on the building's east side. A
major consideration during renovation was taking care not to
disturb the crypt, Townsend said.

     Remsen Hall was "rededicated," during ceremonies on May 5-7.
And the Chemistry Department is proud of its 98,000-square-foot
gem. The original Remsen was 81,000 square feet, and the infill
added 16,500 square feet.

     Old Remsen was in bad shape. Exhaust hoods in laboratories
worked poorly, and air for ventilation was drawn in through
windows, circulating dirt from outside amid sensitive optical
equipment, computers and experiments. In summer, there was not
enough power to run the many window-unit air conditioners,
causing frequent electrical failures and crashing computers. The
ancient plumbing system often failed, producing floods. 

     The new Remsen was completed at the end of 1993, after three
years of construction, done in phases. About 45 percent of the
$15 million renovation cost went to upgrading the building's
mechanical operations--the heating, ventilation and air
conditioning. But a lot of attention also was paid to other
features, such as safety and aesthetics.

     "The whole interior was completely gutted; everything was
torn out," said David Draper, chairman of the Chemistry

     The work was a long time coming. A letter was penned by
chemistry professors in the late 1930s, urging the university to
do something about the building's inadequate utilities and design

     Part of the problem stemmed from Remsen's sheer antiquity.
When it was built in 1924, there were not many experts in the
construction of chemistry buildings.

     That situation has changed. The architects who designed
Remsen's renovation, Ellenzweig Associates Inc. of Cambridge,
Mass., have had extensive experience designing and renovating
chemistry buildings.

     "I'm very proud of the work they've done," Townsend said.

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