Page D3.2 . 01 February 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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  • Of Glass and Warmth and Wood
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  • Baltimore Beryl

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    Baltimore Beryl


    Even on the less visible Howard Street and rear elevations, the angled and faceted facades respond cleverly to road and railroad alignments. Equally effective is the building's stair and elevator block, which presents the only regular facade of the building. Its shape and close proximity to the Fox Center — separated only by a thin sliver of sky — establishes a compatibility despite differences in function, age, materials, and architectural sensibilities.

    In contrast to some modern masterpieces such as the Hancock Tower by I.M. Pei or the Kresge Auditorium by Eero Saarinen, which have been criticized for inadequately defined entrances, the Brown Center's entrance is highly visible and exactly where it should be. The entrance acts as fulcrum of the building's exterior.

    Function Following

    The relationship between Brown Center and its neighbors is transformed once one enters the centrally placed entrance. As one moves through the lobby and up the stairs, the views through the Mt. Royal facades to the various buildings seem impressionistic, almost mysterious, reinforcing the three dimensional, dynamic quality of the Brown Center.

    The cutting-edge appearance of the Brown Center is also intended to reflect the innovative academic programs housed here: graphic design, experimental animation, interactive media, and video. The 525-seat Falvey Hall auditorium, studios, and classrooms all reportedly work admirably.

    Ellen Lupton, director of MICA's Graphic Design MFA Program and curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper-Hewitt says: "The Brown Center is the perfect setting for what we do. The graduate program has a beautiful, dedicated lab/ studio space providing the social and technological locus for our work. The building is always there as a reminder of the power of functional, innovative design. Looking out at the city, we know where we are and where we are headed."

    Another enthusiastic user is Jed Dietz, director of the Maryland Film Festival, who shows films at Falvey Hall as part of his annual event and also shows films to students in the classrooms as part of the regular curriculum. He says the filmmakers he brings with him to discuss their movies appreciate that Falvey Hall has a "showcase feel, and yet it is intimate." Dietz adds: "for showing screened movies, it is really special as it has a simple elegance that is unusual."

    Process That Went Right

    The five-story, 61,000-square-foot (5700-square-meter) building cost $20 million and is named in honor of Eddie and Sylvia Brown, prominent Baltimore philanthropists. President Lazarus, who had a reputation for active involvement when working with other architects, had given Brickbauer, consultant to Ziger/Snead Architects, a blank slate in designing the Brown Center.

    Brickbauer proved undogmatic but reflective of the values of Louis Kahn, who was his critic at Yale, of the preeminent architectural historian Richard Krautheimer, who was his teacher at the American Academy in Rome, and of Philip Johnson and Max Abramovitz, in whose offices he had worked.

    For an upcoming monograph on his projects, Brickbauer writes: "...I look at my buildings as a series of exercises and historical paraphrases. Exercises in sculpture, structure, transparency, translucency, reflectivity and, at the same time, paraphrases of historical examples. My buildings are not postmodern caricatures or decorated boxes. The are modernist interpretations of humanist, baroque, or neoclassical models or indeed, pure modernism."

    At one point during the design process, Brickbauer, having refined the original design through a series of models, took his latest model to Lazarus for approval. The highly thoughtful and articulate Lazarus stared silently at the model for a few minutes and then simply gave the architect the thumbs-up gesture.

    The Brown Center, a wonderful mix of exciting, inspiring architecture and Bauhaus functionality has validated their collective vision.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    William Lebovich is an architectural photographer and architectural historian. His most recent exhibition was "Shared Sacred Spaces."



    ArchWeek Image

    New building for the Maryland Institute College of Art by Charles Brickbauer and Ziger/Snead Architects.
    Photo: Maryland Institute College of Art

    ArchWeek Image

    The main facade juts out over Baltimore's Mt. Royal Avenue.
    Photo: William Lebovich

    ArchWeek Image

    Mt. Royal facade, view from the south.
    Photo: William Lebovich

    ArchWeek Image

    A glass connector between the new Brown Center at right and the older Fox Building to the left, revealing a sliver of sky.
    Photo: William Lebovich

    ArchWeek Image

    Brown Center site plan.
    Image: Ziger/Snead Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Brown Center ground level floor plan.
    Image: Ziger/Snead Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Brown Center section looking north.
    Image: Ziger/Snead Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Bold glass forms characterize the new building for MICA.
    Photo: Maryland Institute College of Art


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