Like American jurisprudence, the University of Baltimore's new $114 million law school is complicated and thoughtful.
Staircases bridge across and spiral through the 12-story building's vibrant atrium, connecting a labyrinth of classrooms and study spaces with faculty offices, clinical facilities and a research wing. Sunlight is inescapable, reducing the need for artificial lighting, and the concrete slab floors encase heating elements that also cut down on energy use.
Colors like "margarita" and "banana yellow" pop from walls and ceilings, the sounds of a waterfall echo throughout the glass edifice and square chandeliers are strung like falling confetti.
"We … wanted a building that was not an ivory tower. … We're changing traditions," said Robert Bogomolny, the university's president, of the structure that looks from the outside like interlocking, checkerboard-covered boxes rising above the Jones Falls Expressway across from Penn Station.
The unconventional law center on Mount Royal Avenue is expected to open at the end of this month after nearly six years of planning and construction. The University of Baltimore School of Law community is eager to get into the new space, which is drastically different from the school's current residence, a cramped, dark 30-year-old building two blocks west.
"This is a building you see into. You see the energy," said Bogomolny, who called the structure a "landmark building for the city of Baltimore."
"You're going to come out of that train station, and you're going to see this building," he said.
Faculty are scheduled to begin moving in during May, and students should start occupying the 15 classrooms and 29 group study spaces during the summer semester, according to the university.
Vacating the current law school building, which opened in 1982, will allow the university to undertake renovations there for an undergraduate-focused facility to be called the Learning Commons, said Steve Cassard, the university's vice president for facilities management and capital planning.
Prospective law students visiting the campus recently were "bowled over" by the new law center's "idealistic and optimistic" design, said Ronald Weich, the law school's dean. The school now has roughly 1,200 students, about 20 percent more than when the current building opened three decades ago.
Like the present law building, the new structure will be called the John and Frances Angelos Law Center, named for the parents of Orioles principal owner Peter G. Angelos, an alumnus of the law school and donor of $15 million of the $22 million in private funding that went to the building. The remainder of the law center's funding came from the state. (The University of Baltimore is part of the University System of Maryland.)
The building was designed by Stefan Behnisch, an architect based in Stuttgart, Germany, who also has designed facilities for Amherst College and Harvard University.
His firm, which worked on the law center in partnership with the Baltimore-based architecture group Ayers Saint Gross, is known for environmentally conscious design and was selected through a competition sponsored by the Abell Foundation. Twenty firms entered the competition, the university said, and Behnisch was selected in late 2008.
"We saw the sustainability as a moral imperative," Bogomolny said.
The 190,000-square-foot building, built on two-thirds of an acre, was designed to achieve the highest level of certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Two buried 10,000-gallon tanks collect rainwater from the roof and terraces that will be used for flushing toilets, irrigating the greenery and supplying the water features, including a large waterfall that encloses a sunken garden alongside the expressway, blocking out the noise of passing cars.
All of the light fixtures are LEDs (light-emitting diodes), which last longer and require less energy to create the same luminescence as fluorescent bulbs. Fifty miles of radiant tubing encased in the concrete floors, designed to control the temperature of rooms both above and below, also will help save the university hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs each year, Bogomolny said.
Automatic blinds throughout the building will lower when the sun hits their windows. Nearly all of the rooms have windows that open to reduce air conditioning use. A green roof over part of the building is designed to reduce stormwater runoff.
There are even showers so that students or faculty who bike or run to the law center can wash up before class. Shower facilities are a requirement for the Green Building Council's "platinum" certification, Cassard said.
The building also is designed to better serve how law is taught today at the university, said Nancy Modesitt, a professor of lawyering skills, torts and employment law, who was a member of committee that oversaw the building's development.
"We had a lot of impact on the classroom sizes and designs," Modesitt said. Classrooms will allow for greater student-to-student interaction, since classes now frequently incorporate teamwork, she said. Lecturing will be aided by improved technology, including projection screens that can be controlled by tablet computers such as iPads, she said.
Classrooms range in size from intimate seminar rooms to a 100-person stadium-style lecture hall. There is a mostly subterranean "moot court" room that seats 300, where students can practice oral arguments before an audience. The atrium, too, is designed so that an amplified speaker can address an audience standing on the inward-facing balconies of five floors of the building.
The faculty also is pleased that all law school teaching will take place in the same building, Modesitt said. Some of the legal clinics, which give students practical experience on real cases, are currently located outside the law center, she said.
"The buzz is great. … It's being looked upon as something very positive," said Dalene Radcliffe, who is finishing her law degree this semester.
Although she'd hoped the building would be completed a semester or two earlier, as was predicted previously, she's pleased that when she comes back as an attorney it will be to a place that shows off the school's growth, she said.
"It's looking to the future," said Sayra Wells Meyerhoff, a graduate who was among the leading donors to the building. "The law itself is an area where you can be creative. It demands a creative mind. This building will just be an example to our students."
The university has planned a celebration of the new law center next Tuesday that will feature remarks by Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vice President Joe Biden. The building's grand opening is scheduled for April 30, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is expected to speak.
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