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Hopkins Hospital's newest building to reflect past


So far in the 1990s, Baltimore has seen the opening of an old-fashioned-looking ballpark, an old-fashioned-looking apartment house on Key Highway, old-fashioned townhouses near Federal Hill and an old fashioned-looking office tower on South Street.

Now it's about to get an old fashioned-looking cancer center.

After months of planning, the president and key trustees of the Johns Hopkins Health System and Hospital have approved the basic design for a $97.7 million, seven-level Comprehensive Cancer Center proposed for the northeast corner of Orleans Street and Broadway.

Although the building isn't due to open until late 1997, it looks as if it might have been designed in the late 1890s. With brick and cast stone walls, arched windows, balconies and gabled roofs, it will have a strong affinity with the three Victorian-era buildings that lend so much dignity to Hopkins' East Baltimore campus: Marburg, Wilmer and the domed Billings administration building, all of which date from 1889.

The 370,000-square-foot building will bring under one roof many Hopkins departments that treat cancer. The latest design calls for two levels of parking below grade; one of clinical support space; two of outpatient and radiation oncology treatment space; one of operating rooms; two with a total of 146 inpatient beds, including some VIP suites; and one mechanical level.

The retro design touches will give the Hopkins project a decidedly different look from the University of Maryland Medical Systems with its futuristic Homer Gudelsky tower. The traditional approach also represents a departure from the more stanchly modernist buildings that Hopkins constructed within the past decade, including the eight-story Outpatient Center on the west side of Broadway.

Architect Benjamin Rook of Odell Associates in Charlotte, N.C., designer of the cancer center, said the change in design direction can be traced to the change in leadership at the hospital, starting with the arrival in 1992 of Dr. James Block as president and chief executive officer.

Mr. Rook said the interior will provide the most up-to-date facilities available for cancer treatment. But after reviewing many options, he said, Dr. Block and members of the trustees' Program and Physical Planning Committee wanted an exterior design that echoes the three historic buildings along Broadway. Mr. Rook said the buildings have a character and a quality of detailing that are missing in the newer parts of the hospital.

"The mood of the administration is not international style," he said. "The goal is to change the motif."

The retro approach drew largely negative comments from members of Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel, which reviewed the drawings last week.

"I think it's a pity that you've gone to these eclectic lengths," said panel member Phoebe Stanton, a former Hopkins professor of architectural history. "But if that's what the doctor wants, that's what the doctor gets.

"The institution is a remarkable place, known for its progressive research," Dr. Stanton added. "It's a shame that you should go backward architecturally."

Added panel member Mario Schack: "What you've done on the inside is terrific. It seems to be the challenge would have been to create a building of its own time."

Mr. Rook and Sally MacConnell, vice president of facilities for the hospital, said the president and building committee members are pleased with the direction the design has taken and aren't likely to change course now.

Given that premise, some of the most useful comments from the review panel members concerned the degree to which the building exhibits a traditional look. They encouraged the architect to tone down the appearance of the cancer center so it is less monumental and more of a backdrop for Billings, instead of competing with it as the most ornate structure in the area.

Mr. Rook promised to restudy the relationships, saying the design team's goal is to be sensitive to the older buildings rather than upstage them.

Golden Griffin

The Baltimore Architecture Foundation will present its first Golden Griffin award today to NationsBank Corp., in recognition of its restoration and relighting of the landmark banking tower at 10 Light St. The foundation created the award to honor noteworthy efforts to celebrate Baltimore's architecture and built environment.

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