UB law center design wins plaudits

The University of Baltimore's plan to bring "world class" architecture to Maryland - in the form of its proposed $107 million John and Frances Angelos Law Center - received high praise Thursday from two public design review panels.

Fourteen months after concluding an international competition to choose a design team for their project, university leaders have raised much of the private funding needed to begin construction and are optimistic about securing $38.7 million from Maryland's General Assembly.

If the state funds are approved this spring as requested, work would begin in July and the building would open in 2013, according to university President Robert Bogomolny and Vice President Steve Cassard.

"We're two-thirds of the way toward reaching our goal - $9.6 million out of $15 million" in private funds, including $5 million from attorney Peter G. Angelos, Bogomolny said. "In these economic times, it's almost a miracle. People are stepping up."

The university and its architects presented their latest designs Thursday to the state's Architectural Review Board and the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel - their first presentations since their selection in November 2008. They also held a nighttime community meeting.

The site is a triangular lot at the northeast corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, across the Jones Falls Expressway from Penn Station. The law center is being designed for 1,100 students, the school's current enrollment. The competition was won by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore and Behnisch Architekten of Stuttgart, Germany. They proposed a 12-level building that will look like a series of interlocking cubes, with light "monochromatic" surfaces.

Architects Stephan Behnisch and Michael Barber explained that different parts of the law center will have different surfaces to reflect the activities inside. Windows of the law library will have a regular, checkerboard pattern, while windows of the classroom and faculty-office sections will be laid out in an irregular pattern. A multistory atrium that Behnisch likened to a "vertical schoolyard" will connect the various components to each other and to a "sunken garden" alongside the expressway and a large moot courtroom underground.

Behnisch said designing the law center was like creating "three buildings in one," making for "a very complex, three-dimensional chess game." It's also being designed to exceed city and state goals for sustainable architecture, with operable windows and green roofs, he said.

At both review meetings, the project drew accolades for elevating the caliber of design in Baltimore. Several panel members said they would like to see more activity at the street level, perhaps a cafe along Charles Street near the train station, and not a loading dock. But for the most part, panelists said they were impressed that the building didn't seem to have a back side and that it would enliven the surrounding area.

"I think it's a wonderful building, and I'm really excited about the potential it has for setting new standards for sustainability," said panel member Gary Bowden. "I think the combination of the train station and the ["Male/Female"] statue and this building will create a place at the edge that we really haven't had ... It's very inviting."

Panel member Mark Cameron said it will help connect the Midtown-Belvedere area with the Station North arts district to the north.

"We haven't seen anything like that here in Baltimore," he said. "I'm very interested to see how it turns out."

"It's really going to be a fabulous addition to our built environment in Baltimore," said city planning director Tom Stosur.

Bogomolny said he was gratified by the comments and glad the university held the competition. "You pick something and hope it will be first-rate," he said. "I think we're on our way. I really do."