Two and a half years after the first shovel was
officially unveils this week the end product of its
just-completed $26.8 million makeover.
Peabody Institute Director Robert Sirota calls the
renovations made to the campus both "dramatic" and
"magical." He cites in particular the architects' ability
to perform, in essence, a heart transplant to a campus that
he says now circulates with life.
A major goal of the project, Sirota says, was to
create a more welcoming, inviting Peabody.
Gone are the dumpsters, black iron gates, guardhouses
and the gray labyrinth of halls that once impeded access
into and through the one-block campus in Mount Vernon
— making portions feel sealed off from the community.
In their place are a restored entrance to Peabody on Mount
Vernon Place, vibrant colors, a well-dressed Grand Arcade
and new and reconfigured performance spaces.
Says Sirota: Let the renaissance begin.
"It is our goal to be one of the top three music
schools in the country. We want to attract more talent to
Peabody and expand our audience," Sirota says. "This new
facility we hope will generate greater interest in the
concerts and lectures held here. With these renovations, I
feel we have arrived at the place where we could point to
our facility and say there really isn't anything
To celebrate Peabody's grand reopening, the school
will host the Music for the World Festival, a nine-day
series of concerts by all of the school's major ensembles
along with celebrated faculty and guest artists [see
schedule here]. The
highlight of the festival, which starts on
Saturday, will be "A Grand Celebration Evening" on
Saturday, April 24, featuring the Peabody Symphony
Orchestra and renowned pianist and faculty member Leon
The Grand Arcade connects two
historic buildings and houses the Peabody Box Office. Other
new offices are located through the openings on the
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
The capstone of the construction project, designed by
Washington-based Quinn Evans|Architects, is the new Grand
Arcade that connects the Conservatory and the George
Peabody Library buildings. The European-inspired
glass-roofed thoroughfare, dubbed Peabody's new "main
street," boasts a terrazzo floor and a cascading staircase
with three gently graded flights that run north to south
from the Mt. Vernon portico to the Peabody Mews. The space
has both an elegant and organic feel, as iron stair rails
twist and curve like vines and appear at two points to grow
out of the side of the buildings.
The arcade's design preserved the brick exteriors of
the two 19th-century buildings it connects to evoke the
feel of an urban street. To that effect, light fixtures
that resemble the tops of lampposts hang from trusses to
provide a warm glow that blends with the natural light.
The arcade is located in what used to be an unused
alley between the two historic buildings.
Carl Elefante, project manager for Quinn
Evans|Architects, says that the concept for the space,
which began life as a sketch on a napkin, was to create a
vibrant streetscape that would serve as the center of the
campus's new circulatory system.
"We wanted to increase the amount of visual energy, to
make Peabody a more exciting place to be thematically,"
Elefante says. "We feel we have raised the bar and made
this a more high-profile space."
The new Bank of America Mews
Gallery, whose first exhibit will be 'Lift Every Voice
— Portraits of African-American Musicians,'
photographs by Russ Moss.
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
The arcade contains the Rouse Visitors Center, a box
office for Peabody performances and an information booth
that offers details on what is going on at Peabody and in
the surrounding community. The space also houses a new
elevator system to provide access from the parking garage
to the library and performance spaces.
Peabody concert patrons arriving by car used to
traverse a complex path to go from the adjacent garage to
the performance hall. Those on foot were required to enter
through the Peabody Mews, located off Washington Place
opposite the Walters Art Museum, only to be greeted by a
guard behind a locked gate. The new entrance for the public
is 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, where there will be an
The Peabody Mews now acts as a secondary pedestrian
access for students, faculty and staff. The plaza has been
reconfigured and landscaped to allow access from Washington
Place to Centre Street and from Centre Street to Mount
Sirota says that renovation of the Peabody campus,
which took three years to complete, was long overdue.
"We had 50 years of deferred maintenance that needed
to be taken care of — improvements to plumbing,
heating and HVAC systems," he says. "We also had a real big
problem here with access to the facility for both those who
work and study here and the general public. It became
obvious that the buildings, distinguished as they were,
were something of an impediment to a campus that felt open,
welcoming and usable by the public."
Sirota says that the major challenge of the project
was to make a rational flow of the traffic of students and
visitors. The Grand Arcade and the pedestrian bridges that
connect the historic buildings have solved the problem, he
The Centre Street entrance to the
gallery and Grand Arcade.
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
In addition to improving campus circulation, the other
major theme of the renovation was to enhance Peabody's
music education and performance capacities.
Of note, the master plan called for the renovation of
East Hall, which is now a dramatic soundproofed orchestra
rehearsal space. The acoustically balanced room can
accommodate a 100-piece orchestra and is wired to allow for
Other additions include eight small rehearsal rooms, a
percussion suite, the Max Corzilius Jazz Studio and the
95-seat Cohen-Davison Family Theatre, which will become
another venue for Peabody's public performances.
The renovation project also allowed the opportunity to
make handicapped accessibility improvements and various
mechanical and electrical improvements to the campus
Elefante says that creating additional performance and
common spaces in such a densely populated area that could
not be built out was a "huge challenge." The solution, he
says, was to recycle, or reclaim, every available underused
or dead space.
Peabody Conservatory Dean Wolfgang Justen says that
the renovation project has already had a positive effect,
pointing to the 1,279 application auditions held this
February, an increase of 200 from 2003.
"In fact, the pool of applicants auditioning for
enrollment at the Conservatory has increased by close to 20
percent over the last two years," Justen says. "As
Peabody's reputation continues to grow with the new
physical plant, the goal now is to continue increasing
undergraduate enrollment to meet budget needs as Peabody
moves forward, to increase graduate student enrollment and
to recruit top faculty to attract the best students
Peabody Director Robert Sirota on
one of the benches added to the Centre Street side of
campus. Behind him is the entrance to the new gallery and
PHOTO BY HPS/WILL KIRK
Sirota says that now that the dust has settled and the
public officially welcomed back, he admits that life at
Peabody will likely never be the same again. And, he adds,
he couldn't be more delighted.
"We now have a more gracious and uplifting campus. We
are very pleased with the results," he says. "More than
ever, this is a beautiful place to come to work, see
Peabody performances and study. And, of course, visitors to
the George Peabody Library will also celebrate this new
space. It's much more alive now."
A special invitation: As part of the Peabody
Institute's Grand Reopening Music for the World Festival,
all JHU faculty and staff are invited to An Evening of Jazz
with the Peabody Jazz Orchestra on Thursday, April 22, at
the discounted rate of $8. (See this
page for concert details.) A preconcert beer and wine reception begins at
5:30 p.m. in the Constellation Energy Pavilion. Enter the
new Peabody campus at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place. R.S.V.P. by
Thursday, April 15, to the Peabody Development Office at
410-659-8100, ext. 3040.