By Heidi Schwartz
Published in the July 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
From 1918 to 1919, somewhere between 20 million and 40 million died from a public health menace that initially appeared to be nothing more than a common cold. So when the Rockefeller Foundation appropriated $6 million for the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in February 1922, the world’s most lethal flu epidemic was still fresh in the minds of many who survived its terrible impact.
Although worldwide flu epidemics are considered a thing of the past, other equally serious public health issues have continued to challenge researchers. And since it first opened its doors in 1926, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD has been responding to the needs of its world class research team by increasing and improving its facilities.
Worthy Of A Six Phase Master Plan
Michael Linehan, AIA, director, facilities management, Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health recounts the school’s pattern of growth. “Until about 1985, there were only two major additions. Growth problems were addressed with great difficulty, as construction funding was very hard to get. But by the 1980s, an understanding of the crucial role of public health in the larger world of medicine was beginning to develop rapidly. As a result, the need for more research and teaching space also began to grow. Around that time, the university and the school began to explore the possibility of expanding its core existing facility at Wolfe Street. Fortunately, this site of the original building, if properly planned, had enough room to double its size.”
The project design team, lead by Baltimore, MD-based architectural firm Ziger/Snead LLP Architects, wanted to preserve the look of the building without swallowing it up. “At the same time,” Linehan explains, “we wanted the new building to look like a logical conclusion to the old one.”
Doubling the size of the facility while solving this architectural puzzle was just one of the challenges that prompted the development of a master plan. Another practical motivator was financial backing for the overall project. Linehan says, “We didn’t have the funding to do it all at once, so we broke the larger scheme down into smaller pieces that could be built in step with the money raising efforts.”
Ziger/Snead worked with the university’s facilities department to create a six phase plan. From 1996 to 2002, the first four sections progressed at a steady rate. Architect Steve Ziger, AIA, recalls, “When we first started on the project [with the master plan] in about 1993, we thought there would probably be a break between phases. Effectively, there never was.” In 2002, a large donation by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it possible to complete the final two phases together.
Linehan notes, “We got progressively better as we learned from previous parts of the project. However, we were fortunate. The plan was basically right.”
Since the project spanned such a long period of time, it was only natural for the architectural firm and the facilities management office to establish an extremely close working relationship. An experienced architect himself, Linehan says, “We did what we could to make the process easier, including all of the programming, master planning, interiors work, schematic lab design, and furnishings. We even have an architect on staff who specializes in laboratory remodeling.”
Ziger/Snead’s Project Manager Nils Eddy clarifies, “David Kempner (assistant director and lab design specialist with Johns Hopkins) filtered out special requests to get users to buy into a standard lab design. He also caught all of the quirky bits of equipment and power requirements. This is a model that could greatly benefit other institutions.”
Linehan adds, “An awful lot of an architect’s skill is involved with trying to listen carefully to his clients and then communicate clearly what it is you’re trying to do for them. By working together closely, we overcame many problems.”
Because the expansion would eventually be limited by the constraints of the surrounding city block, everything was designed for peak efficiency. According to Ziger, “We tried to use every cubic foot available to us on the block, while at the same time creating a sense of campus and community. For example, the two central light courts double as large reading/study halls for the students, many of whom are in the building for the entire day.”
Ziger appreciates how the conservation mentality applied to other aspects of the space as well. “One of the things we enjoyed most was the long-term approach to decisions regarding construction materials and furnishings,” he says.
Linehan’s healthy obsession with conservation prompted him to design his own standardized furniture solution originally made from yellow pine stair tread supports and laminated wood butcher block work surfaces. Now the school is purchasing maple butcher block in large quantities for this purpose.
“There was no furniture system that would work, because all of the spaces are different sizes. Eventually, we developed our own furniture system that could be adapted easily. When changes or additions are necessary, someone goes in there with an electric screwdriver and a Skilsaw. That’s it!” Linehan adds.
The significance of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health was never lost on the design team, but practical solutions were always given priority. Linehan says, “It was already the most important school of its kind in the world. It didn’t need the building to create an image for it. It did need a building image that reminded everyone we were still here still striving to stay in pace with the world’s health problems and developing technology.”
Designed to respond to the public health challenges of the future, the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School is a successful, worthwhile endeavor. With any luck, perhaps this systematic approach will inspire researchers at the school to find one of the most elusive public health challenges—the cure for the common cold.
This article was based on interviews with Eddy, Linehan, and Ziger. For more information on this project, contact Susan Anthony at [email protected].