The Johns Hopkins Gazette: August 6, 2001
August 6, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 41


Clark Hall Move-In Begins

Biomedical engineering building is Homewood's first academic structure in more than a decade

By Phil Sneiderman

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

After nearly two years of construction, Clark Hall is flinging open its doors, preparing to greatly expand biomedical engineering research and instruction on the Homewood campus.

The sturdy three-story red brick structure is Homewood's first new building devoted solely to research and education since the 1990 dedication of the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. Its opening also heralds the creation of a new academic quadrangle surrounding Garland Field.

Still awaiting landscaping and final interior touches, Clark Hall has opened its doors to arriving faculty. It will expand biomedical engineering research at Homewood.

The new building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, houses ultramodern laboratories and offices, but its exterior features a classical design reminiscent of the campus's earliest Georgian-style buildings.

"I think all of us agree that it's far more beautiful than we ever bargained for," said Murray Sachs, director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the multidisciplinary Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute. "Clark Hall fits in extremely well with the Homewood campus. One thing I harped on is that I didn't want it to be a dark building. The way the light falls on the building is just magnificent."

The main foyer's sweeping staircase

Inside, elegant light fixtures and a curved central staircase are among the stylistic flourishes that help the interior avoid the cold, institutional feel of some academic buildings. At the same time, the hall boasts several high-tech touches, including video-conferencing capabilities and an electronic door key system that can identify the user and limit his or her access to specific rooms at specific times.

In mid-July, several biomedical engineering faculty and staff members began moving their books, files, computers and other equipment into Clark Hall, which provides 55,000 gross feet of space. The building is expected to be ready for classes when students return for the fall semester.

"I've been particularly impressed by the amount of space in Clark Hall that's devoted to students," Sachs said. "One of the gems is the physiological foundations lab."

Moving boxes have been a frequent sight in recent weeks.

This lab will be used for a course that all biomedical engineering majors must take during their junior year. Because of a space crunch, the department has had to teach this course to small groups in older lab space elsewhere on campus, sometimes during evening hours. The new lab, equipped with 20 computer workstations, has room to teach 40 students at one time. When it opens this fall, it is expected to eliminate the need for evening classes.

The new building also will house the department's first tissue engineering teaching lab, although this facility is not expected to be ready for classes until the fall of 2002.

Final costs for Clark Hall are expected to come in close to its $18 million budget, which includes design fees, laboratory equipment, computers and other furnishings, Sachs said.

Jennifer Elisseeff and Kevin Yarema were among the first new faculty members to move into offices in Clark Hall. Both specialize in tissue engineering.

The building is named for A. James Clark, a university trustee emeritus who is chairman and chief executive officer of Clark Enterprises. Clark, whose construction company served as general contractor, provided a $10 million gift toward construction of the building. The project is also supported by a $17 million Leadership Award from the Whitaker Foundation and a $3 million capital grant from the state of Maryland.

Some of the Whitaker funds were earmarked for the hiring of 10 new faculty members, five in biomedical engineering and five from other engineering disciplines.

Prior to the opening of Clark Hall, most research within Hopkins' highly regarded biomedical engineering program has been based at the School of Medicine on the JHMI campus. Clark Hall will allow the department to develop a strong presence on the Homewood campus as well as to establish more collaborations with Homewood-based researchers.

Biomedical engineering is the most popular undergraduate major at Hopkins, but the program does not plan to increase its enrollment of about 500 undergraduates, Sachs said. It does, however, plan a small increase in the number of graduate students admitted annually.

Established biomedical engineering faculty members are expected to remain at the medical campus, with a few exceptions. Sachs plans to divide his time between the campuses, and Raimond Winslow, a professor who creates computer models of the heart, is relocating full time to Clark Hall. Michael I. Miller, a Homewood-based professor who focuses on computer imaging, is moving from Barton Hall into Clark Hall, bringing with him an IBM supercomputer that will be installed in a climate-controlled room.

Much of the remaining space in Clark Hall will be occupied by newly hired faculty members, several of whom moved in this summer, even as construction workers were still busy inside the building.

One of these new hires, Jennifer Elisseeff, was eager to occupy her new office at Clark Hall in mid-July. "I think it's very exciting," she said during a break from unpacking. "It's a beautiful building. I feel very lucky."

Elisseeff who did her graduate work at Harvard and MIT, then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, is now an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Hopkins. As part of the expanded tissue engineering program in Clark Hall, she is trying to develop biomaterials called hydrogels, which could be used to replaced damaged cartilage.

She will be working closely with another new Clark Hall tissue engineering expert, Kevin Yarema, who also holds the rank of assistant professor of biomedical engineering. Yarema, who earned his doctorate in biological chemistry from MIT, approaches tissue engineering from a different direction. He is looking at ways to alter cells so that they will be more likely to accept replacement parts, such as artificial organs.

Yarema said he'll spend the coming months setting up computers, microscopes and imaging equipment, as well as seeking grants to support his research. "I'm eager to start," he said, "but there's a lot to do here."

A formal dedication ceremony for Clark Hall is expected to take place on Oct. 12. In the meantime, workers will continue putting the finishing touches on the building.

Sachs, the department director, said he is looking forward to seeing Clark Hall in shape by early September, when students will return and a group of Israeli scientists is scheduled to visit for a conference. "We'll be ready for them," Sachs said. "One way or another."