When the architects at the Baltimore firm Hord Coplan Macht were hired in the spring of 2012 to design a new dormitory for the Maryland Institute College of Art, they had to act quickly: Students were scheduled to move into the building in less than a year and a half.
"It was probably one of the fastest design-construction projects we've ever done," said Chris Harvey, a principal of the firm and one of its directors of design.
Eight months ago, the block south of West North Avenue near West Mount Royal Avenue was occupied by a MICA parking lot. Now it's dominated by a $16.3 million edifice that students this fall will begin calling home.
The speedy design and construction of the 88,000-square-foot building is a rarity in Baltimore, where putting up a structure of any significance can be a protracted process.
MICA commissioned Leake Hall, named for former MICA President Eugene W. "Bud" Leake Jr., to accommodate the school's record-breaking growth. Enrollment surpassed 2,000 in fall 2011; this fall, the college expects more than 2,200 undergraduates and graduates.
"We couldn't trip up at the community meetings," Harvey said. "We had no extra time."
When neighbors requested that more activity be visible inside the building on its North Avenue face, Harvey's team scrambled to redesign the guts of the structure. They moved one of two artists' studios in the building so that it now looks out over a section of street that was fairly lifeless. Now, the 24-hour studio and a lecture hall, where students will regularly hold events into the evening, will wash the avenue with light at night.
It was a difficult building to design on short notice, Harvey said, because it straddles the historic neighborhood and the design-centric campus.
"This building has to wear a lot of different hats," he said.
To maintain neighborhood character, the wall facing North Avenue is clad with brown brick and has window bays that echo the nearby brownstones. To speak to the artistic population of the school, the walls facing the campus are finished in sleek gray tones.
"Contemporary students don't want to live in Victoriana," said Mike Molla, MICA's vice president for operations and board chair of Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc.
The campus-facing facade of the new building reflects the modern aesthetic of The Gateway, a circular, glass-covered residence building for upper-class students a block east on West North Avenue, and the Brown Center, an angular glass classroom and studio building that opened about a decade ago.
MICA decided in March 2012 to hire Hord Coplan Macht, which has worked on other collegiate projects, including the new arena at Towson University.
To meet the tight deadline, MICA and the architecture firm scheduled weekly planning meetings to ensure the project remained on track, Molla said.
They convened an advisory group that included architects who live in Bolton Hill to review plans in order to reduce the likelihood that the project would be delayed. The building's plans were evaluated by the Mount Royal Improvement Association, the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation and the city Planning Department.
Leake Hall brings the number of beds on campus to 1,000, Molla said, and will cap off what is becoming a unified residential complex.
In a second project, MICA is renovating The Commons, the 20-year-old residential quad next to Leake Hall. The school is rebranding the entire complex as Founders Green, with a total of 161 units to accommodate 590 students.
The Commons buildings are to be named after influential leaders from MICA's 187-year history, including John H.B. Latrobe, the school's founder, Margaret F.S. Glace, the first female dean at an art school, and Julia A. Spear, a pioneer in art education for women.
Baltimore-based Ayers Saint Gross, MICA's master planner, designed the $3 million renovation, which includes a new dining area for students and a glass-enclosed entrance to the grassy quad.
Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. is overseeing the construction of both projects, which were financed primarily by state-issued bonds. Ashton Design, a Baltimore design firm founded in 1985 and the employer of many MICA graduates, created the new signage for the residential buildings.
The short amount of time Harvey's group had to develop Leake Hall didn't prevent them from including a few artistic touches, including incorporating a slight angle into the wall along North Avenue, making fire stairs inviting by installing sheets of windows and using concrete columns to hold the building up over a recessed entrance.
Molla said the building has also been designed to suit the lifestyles of art students: Wide hallways and stairwells will accommodate students carrying large canvasses, ceilings are 10 feet high, and bare wall space in the corridors is illuminated by easily adjustable track lighting so students can practice displaying their work.
"This building has been designed to hold up to the rigors of art and design students," Molla said.
On the ground floor, there is a versatile "box" space that can be used for displaying all types of work, and which opens onto a garden where students can work and socialize. Apartments for visiting faculty and artists are just outside the lecture hall.
MICA and Hord Coplan Macht worked with the community for several months before construction began "making sure that we were happy with the design of the building," said Joe Palumbo, a past president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association. There were at least four community meetings to discuss the plans before ground was broken, he said.
Palumbo said the community is satisfied with the outcome.
"We think it fits in with the neighborhood," he said.
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