Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 26, 2022

Architects unify tradition and modern design

By FRANCESCA PERETTI | October 3, 2006

Virtually every person that visits Hopkins takes a moment to marvel at the sheer beauty of our surroundings on the Homewood campus. Although Hopkins is renowned for its excellence in academia, our university is also noted for its perfectly manicured greenery and its exquisite Georgian architecture.

The architecture in particular follows a Georgian theme that is prominent throughout the campus. The historic Homewood House, perched atop the grassy knoll next to the Beach, was the first building acquired by the University in 1902. It is considered one of the best surviving examples of Federal-period architecture in the nation and has served as the inspiration for the rest of the buildings on campus.

Gilman Hall serves as one of the most iconic and important buildings on campus as it embodies the goal of the colonial revival plans for the initial construction of the campus in 1904. Gilman acts as a fusion between the original Homewood House and Independence Hall in Philadelphia -- hence the central clock tower. Gilman displays beautifully the symmetry of design in Georgian architecture with ornate detail, columned entrances, fan-shaped windows and carved decoration.

The traditional Georgian style is the most widely seen throughout campus. The style was chosen strategically so that the campus could expand with the addition of athletic grounds and dorms over many years while still maintaining its overall symmetry.

In 1902, Ira Remsen, then president of the University, exercised brilliant foresight when he stated that "Our general plan should determine the style of architecture and arrangement of buildings appropriate to the gradual development of the campus so that in years to come the groups of buildings will form a symmetrical whole." The ability to expand the campus but maintain its style and beauty is still essential to improving and advancing the University.

Jim Miller, senior director of design and construction at Hopkins, explains that "the Upper and Lower Quads are designed to act as outdoor rooms, not necessarily a group of buildings attracting attention as individuals." Shriver and Gilman Halls both act as central points of focus in their respective quads while the surrounding buildings act as four walls framing a room. "It is more about the campus than the buildings -- it is more about framing space than making buildings that call attention to themselves," Miller said.

As the University continues to expand we find new edifices added to our lives at an impressive rate. The most recent additions to campus are the Recreation Center, Mudd Hall, Clark Hall, Hodson Hall and Charles Commons.

Now, we are amid another transformation of campus with the construction of the Decker Quadrangle, south of Garland Hall.

Travers Nelson, program manager of design and construction, explained that the new additions will be "three structures, a new quadrangle and a 604-car underground garage. c9 The new building attached to Barton is a computational science and engineering building and not yet above ground but at the very south end of the construction site will be the new visitors' center, which will be known as Mason Hall." The Decker Quadrangle will also be the site of a new public entrance to the campus.

The challenge of new construction is to honor the traditional architectural design of the campus and move it in a modern direction at the same time. "The direction I've been trying to move the campus in is one of contextual design," Miller said.

Nelson describes contextual design as an, "approach to designing a new building so that it is empathetic to its context." The new buildings, "are not historical recreations but they will be very comfortable on the campus," Nelson said.

"We don't want to build anything that looks like its one hundred years old," Miller stressed. As senior direction, he has been working hard for Hopkins for five years and maintains a goal to construct buildings influenced by the tradition of Georgian architecture but with the use of crisp lines and tight detailing. Miller stressed that he wants the new buildings to feel "very crisp, clean and modern. For example you won't find any dental wood moldings in the newer buildings, which are extremely ornamented." Moldings like these are seen in both Gilman and Shriver.

Although the initial buildings like Gilman and the Homewood House maintain the traditional Georgian theme, new architecture must be integrated carefully to consider the current needs of the University. As the University expands its horizons and makes its way through the 21st century, the architecture of newly constructed buildings will incorporate modern techniques of design and technology to better serve the institution.

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