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Johns Hopkins plans large new student center at Homewood campus entrance

Johns Hopkins University unveiled development plans this week for a massive, four-tiered center designed to serve as a hub for the institution’s student life.

The 150,000-square-foot facility would be built on the west side of Charles Street at the intersection with 33rd Street, replacing the Mattin Center, an arts facility, and requiring the relocation of the Johns Hopkins memorial.

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Once completed, the project would provide the Homewood campus its first “real student center,” said Lee Coyle, Hopkins' senior director of planning and architecture, at a Baltimore design and development panel meeting Thursday.

The building, which would include an auditorium, a multipurpose room, lounges and exhibition areas for student projects, would reshape the edge of the campus into a more vibrant and inviting gateway point for the school community, Coyle said.

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University officials chose that location due to its high foot traffic. It’s near several existing campus quads and adjacent to the “The Beach,” a circular green space where students often gather.

Johns Hopkins University has plans for a 150,000 square-foot student center to be designed by a European design and planning firm by fall 2024.Johns Hopkins University has plans to build a 150,000-square-foot student center, designed by a European architecture firm, opening by fall 2024.
Johns Hopkins University has plans for a 150,000 square-foot student center to be designed by a European design and planning firm by fall 2024.Johns Hopkins University has plans to build a 150,000-square-foot student center, designed by a European architecture firm, opening by fall 2024. (BJARKE INGELS GROUP)

“It’s an all-weather plaza, or quad, for the campus,” said Leon Rost, a partner at the Bjarke Ingels Group architecture and planning firm, which is designing the student center. “Club activities, sports and social activities happen all over the city in disparate locations. This is an opportunity to bring it all together.”

Rost said the structure would feature many glass windows meant to welcome visitors to the site. He said the facility would not be as towering as some of the neighboring buildings on the campus, and all four floors would be accessible from the outside.

But members of the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel cautioned that the center could alienate students and visitors given its unique features. The group’s chair, Pavlina Ilieva, said the concept of creating a village for campus life had strong potential, but likened the facility to a spaceship that landed in a barren field.

“You want it to be less of a foreign object ... and more of something that’s growing out of the ground so that it connects better to what’s happening at the site,” she said.

BIG, the architecture firm, was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, but also has offices in London, New York and Barcelona, Spain. This is the firm’s first foray into Baltimore. It previously has designed an array of projects, including museums, bridges and pavilions.

The firm was selected from a group of four finalists that submitted proposals to a design competition, said Alanna Shanahan, Hopkins' vice provost for student affairs. A survey distributed among the campus community gave BIG’s proposal the highest score.

She said students expressed enthusiasm over its connectivity to the Charles Village community as well as its designated arts spaces.

“This building reflects their hopes and dreams for space that isn’t academically focused," Shanahan said.

Hopkins spokeswoman Karen Lancaster said the institution anticipates a total project cost of $200 million to $250 million, funded “almost entirely” by donors. She said Hopkins expects the construction process to create about 2,000 jobs, with a commitment to hire a minimum of 20% through minority and women-owned businesses and at least 13% contracted to local enterprises.

Students and staff played a part in the process, she said, and advocated for the role the center could serve. Students at Hopkins have long voiced the need for a center that encourages engagement outside the classroom.

So far, Lancaster added, the coronavirus has not affected the timeline for the project, which should be completed by fall 2024.

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