The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 8, 1999
Mar. 8, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 25


Homewood Master Plan Is Under Way

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Thomas Jefferson once referred to a college campus as an academic village, a place that both facilitates the learning process and exists in harmony with its surroundings.

In past years, however, many college campuses have veered away from that ideal as unbridled growth has stretched some campuses well beyond their original form and function. Where once was a field and row of trees, for example, now stands a large asphalt parking lot.

The Homewood campus is now positioned for a period of growth, as no fewer than four buildings are slated for construction and the school's borders continue to stretch east of Charles Street.

In order to guide the evolution of Hopkins, now 123 years old, Ayers/Saint/Gross, a Baltimore-based architectural firm, has been selected as the consultant to create a new master plan.

James McGill, senior vice president for administration, says the existing master plan, drawn up in 1985, takes too narrow a look at the campus, and a new plan is needed to take into account parking issues, architectural standards and the siting and look of future buildings.

James McGill

"We have many issues regarding the physical use of space on this campus and how this campus relates to its immediate surrounding communities," McGill said, referring to Charles Village and the Wyman Park area.

The design of the master plan is scheduled to be completed by June 2000. For the next 15 months, representatives of Hopkins and Ayers/Saint/Gross will meet with students, staff, faculty, community residents and city officials to determine what should be the focus of the master plan and what areas of the campus need the most attention.

Preliminary drawings are expected to be completed within six months.

The master plan will take into account more than 30 features of the campus, from the exterior of buildings and layouts of utility roads to the type of trash cans and shrubbery that are used. Questions to be addressed include how vehicular traffic on campus is handled, what campus sites are candidates for future buildings, what function these buildings will have and how students and residents can cross Charles Street safely.

"Right now it can be a mad dash," McGill says.

Charles Street, he adds, needs better defined entrances and other treatments so that people coming to or driving past campus have a better sense that they have arrived at Hopkins.

The master plan also will likely encourage additional commercial development on St. Paul Street so that Charles Village has more of a "college town atmosphere," according to McGill, "like you find at a lot of urban campuses, where you have various kinds of commercial shops and restaurants that cater to students and also to the surrounding community."

McGill adds that Hopkins needs to ask what it can be doing in terms of building this campus out and providing amenities for its population.

"Those to me are the big issues and the big objectives," he says.

The process of selecting the architectural firm began with the soliciting of the best master planners in the country, McGill said, a list that was eventually narrowed to four candidates. Ayers/Saint/Gross was ultimately chosen, McGill says, because it has a proven track record with campus master plans, and the chemistry between the firm and Hopkins felt right.

Ayers/Saint/Gross has 84 years of experience in campus planning and academic building design and for the past 15 years has dealt almost exclusively in this area. Clients of the firm include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, the University of Georgia, the University of Virginia and Washington College.

"They have proven, excellent experience with several major research universities, some of which are in urban settings like we are here," McGill says. "We know the quality work they do."

The company also is familiar with Hopkins as it designed a number of university buildings, most recently the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy at Homewood and the School of Nursing in East Baltimore.

Adam Gross, the firm's principal and head architect, says his company's overall philosophy is based upon the notion that a campus is the sum of all its parts, what he calls the "broader campus view."

Adam Gross and Luanne Green of Ayers/Saint/Gross

"I think what is fundamentally important to us if we are doing a single building, an addition or a campus plan is the space in between buildings," Gross says.

Both McGill and Gross emphasize that the master plan will not be a major overhaul to the campus or alter its historical character. Gross says Hopkins already has a lot going for it with its variety of quadrangles, gardens and open spaces framed by the buildings.

"Oftentimes what we really are doing is trying to look at the best aspects of the campus, identify what everyone loves, and then identify the worst aspects of the campus that everyone is uncomfortable with. Then we simply use the good to repair the bad--replicate more of what has been successful over time and that people associate with in a positive way," Gross said.

At Emory, for example, the majority of buildings had an Italian design with marble facades and red tile roofs. But additions made to the campus over time clashed with the existing architecture, and roads and parking lots replaced what had been open spaces. Gross said the solution in Emory's case was to replicate as much as possible of the original design of the buildings and move the parking spaces to the campus's periphery. For instance, a part of campus that was full of cars, concrete and asphalt was torn up and replaced with rows of trees, shrubbery and a brick footpath.

In the case of Hopkins, McGill says that one of the biggest changes over the years is that half the student population now resides in housing on the eastern side of Charles Street. This side of the street is also home to the new Bunting-Meyerhoff Interfaith Center, several student-life offices and the site of the future campus bookstore.

Thus one objective of the master plan is to tie together the main campus and the east side of Charles Street, "certainly more tightly then they are now." McGill says. "That means visually, physically and on a visceral level so that each side is not divorced from the other but connected."

The solutions could involve signage and lighting; a footbridge across Charles Street; and uniform walkways, in a material such as cobblestone, that are repeated on each side of the campus.

McGill says that a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly campus could be a result of the master plan.

Placement and design of the new buildings already scheduled for construction--the student arts center, the biomedical engineering building and a recreation center--will not be affected by the master plan. McGill does say, however, that the master plan could possibly have an influence on subtle changes to those buildings and on the position and appearance of the new campus bookstore and a classroom building that are still in the planning stages.

McGill emphasizes that the process is just beginning, and until every side is heard, it's premature to say exactly what the impact of the master plan campus will be.

"You can't predict with certainty what the opportunities will be five or 10 years from now," McGill says. "What a master plan will do, though, is give us a framework and guidelines to think about where a building might be sited. The master plan won't, however, say that your next building for chemistry will go here, for instance."

A steering committee to guide the master planning process will be formed, as will several working groups.