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Academic Law Center Appeals to Modern Senses
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Exterior rendering of the Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore
The design of the Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore was driven in part by the restricted site. David Matthiesen

Exposed concrete and glass cladding are just a two of the features that give a new law center building at the University of Baltimore a decidedly unconventional appearance.

June 25, 2013—The term “law center” often conjures up visions of imposing cupola-capped masonry buildings with interiors paneled in mahogany. But in the case of the new law school at the University of Baltimore such stereotypical design is nonexistent, replaced by a glass-encased concrete structure designed to use 43 percent less energy than a conventional building of the same size.

The John and Frances Angelos Law Center opened on April 30 at the intersection of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, two main streets in downtown Baltimore. The 192,000 sq ft center’s 12 above-grade levels are arranged in three interlocking L-shaped volumes. These levels house three program spaces: the clinics, where students gain real-world experience by providing free legal assistance to people unable to afford it, are located on the six lower levels; professors’ offices and classrooms are located on the building’s west side from the 6th to the 11th level; and, finally, the library extends from the 6th to the 11th level on the east side and with a reading room and multifunctional spaces occupies the entire 12th level as well. The building also has a partial level that is located half a story belowground. This partial level creates a space known as the forum, and from it speakers can be viewed from multiple levels above. Also half a story belowground is the center’s moot court, a 300-seat auditorium.

The center’s program spaces are bisected by an atrium that begins in the moot court and in some areas extends to the top of the building. Ramps, stairways, and bridges pass through the atrium at each level, connecting the two sides. As a result, only a few places offer views of the entire volume from top to bottom. “It’s not really an atrium [of] the sort that you think of in a big bank building or something,” explains Matt Noblett, a partner in the Boston office of Behnisch Architekten, an architecture firm headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, which served as the design architect on the project. “It’s a public space that’s fairly modest in dimension—in some cases as small as fifteen to twenty feet across—but it allows people to be outside of the specific program space and in a public area where there are workstations, seating areas, and breakout rooms.” 

Interior rendering of the Angelos Law Center which displays ramps, stairways, and bridges pass through the atrium

Ramps, stairways, and bridges pass through the atrium to connect
the two sides of the law center. David Matthiesen

The shape of the center derives in part from the program spaces, but it is also a reflection of the site. The building is located on a small triangular parcel that is bordered on the east by an Interstate 84 exit ramp. The area was long considered undesirable for development, and only about 25,000 sq ft of the site was suitable for construction, forcing the building to take on a vertical arrangement, Noblett says. “On a typical campus, these kinds of buildings—academic buildings in general and law schools specifically—may be four to six floors at most and distributed rather horizontally. But the solution we came up with had to deal more with verticality in the allocation of the program,” he says. “This idea of the stacked volumes really was a way to generate an interesting vertical arrangement.”

As a result of poor soil conditions at the site, the building is founded on a mat foundation 4 to 7 ft thick. From there its structural system rises to include several complex elements, including a double cantilever that extends 44 ft in one direction and 21 ft in the other to create an overhang above the center’s main entrance. Engineers studied several options for creating the cantilever but ultimately used four posttensioned girders connected by a large column at the corner. The solution was both cost effective and easily concealed by tiered seating and faux cabinets within one of the classrooms, says Rose Rodriguez, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior project manager for Cagley & Associates, an engineering firm based in Rockville, Maryland, which served as the structural engineer on the project. “All along that wall they put fake cabinets; if you try to open them, they’re like five inches deep and you’ll hit a concrete beam,” Rodriguez explains. “You can’t even see [the girders]. They’re completely hidden.”  

Concrete, which was to be left exposed in most places, was selected as the primary structural material to accommodate the center’s radiant heating and cooling system. An extensive network of cross-linked polyethylene (known as PEX) tubing carries cold and hot water from the basement and through the slabs to help maintain the building’s temperature and offset its traditional heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system. Conduit up to 3 in. thick also is embedded in the floor to carry electrical, telecommunications, and data lines. While such systems are typically embedded in a topping slab, the conduit was too large, so instead the building has an 11 in. thick slab throughout. “The slabs would not have been nearly this thick if there hadn’t been this embedded system,” Rodriguez says. “It probably would have been more like eight inches.” The slabs are also deep enough to conceal the PEX system’s manifold boxes without compromising the fire rating. “The manifold boxes are seven inches thick, which left us four inches of concrete that allowed it to be fireproofed properly,” Rodriguez says.

Diagram of the Angelos Law Center which displays all 12 floors

The law center’s 12 above-grade and one and a half below-grade
levels are arranged in three interlocking L-shaped volumes.
Behnisch Architekten

The floor-to-floor heights on either side of the building vary to accommodate different uses. On the fourth floor, for instance, the floor-to-floor height on the east side is 6 ½ ft greater than on the west side. To make up for the difference, the two sides of the building are connected by ramps and stairs at several locations. But engineers had to analyze each side of the building as if it were a separate structure to ensure that the diaphragm action along the linking elements would not adversely affect the shear walls on either side. To that end, they unlinked the diaphragms at certain locations in the model and added small linking beams to form a solid link between the building’s two sides. “It wasn’t every floor that we considered linked; we chose the second floor and the seventh floor—any place that we had a real wide connection,” Rodriguez says. “Like on the seventh floor, we have a ten- to twelve-foot-wide walkway on the north and south side; on that floor we considered the diaphragms linked.”

The center features three different glass facade types. The offices and classrooms in the building’s lower portion are clad in alternating solid aluminum panels and large glass panels with operable windows. To reduce solar gain, the glass panels are outfitted with exterior motorized shades that cover the lower two-thirds of the window entirely, whereas a tilting mechanism allows sun to penetrate the upper one-third. “Above each window is a kind of blind box that holds them, and then as the sun moves around the building during the day . . . the blinds deploy,” Noblett says. “We’re able to optimize daylight to the inside and still cut out the more difficult solar gains from the lower two-thirds of the windows.” A second layer of laminated glass panels covers this volume to protect the blinds from the wind. “Every floor has about a four-inch gap between adjacent panels that allows air to flow through the facade, so you’ll still be able to open your window and get fresh air,” Noblett explains.

The library required a different type of facade to accommodate its multifunction spaces. To meet those needs and reduce solar gain, ceramic fritted glass covers that volume. Some panes are completely fritted, while others have a gradient fritted pattern that is solid at the bottom and gradually disappears toward the top of the pane. The arrangement suggests a woven pattern across the facade. “The idea was to try to give some depth and three-dimensionality to the facade using a fairly standard and low-cost coating,” Noblett says. The third facade type is in the atrium, which features infill glass fitted with ventilation flaps on the north and south sides.

The facades extend past the building’s top floor to cover the mechanical systems on the roof. The building also features four terraces, each of which is accessible and outfitted with planters up to 36 in. tall. To carry not only live load on the terraces but also significant dead load from the soil and trees that fill the planters, engineers incorporated additional reinforcing in those areas. “We actually did some calculations for the weight of trees, and the dirt is actually a lot more heavy than the trees that they could possibly fit in these planters,” Rodriguez says.

Funded by public and private sources, the John and Frances Angelos Law Center is the first building on the University of Baltimore campus wholly dedicated to the law school. It is scheduled to open for a few classes this summer and will accommodate a full slate of courses in the fall. Rodriguez says the center epitomizes the university’s ambitions to create a modern campus. “It’s a law school that doesn’t look like a law school,” she says. “It’s not stuffy; it’s unexpected.”

Noblett says he looks forward to returning to the center in six months to a year to see how students and faculty members are using the center and to learn how its unconventional design has affected the school’s culture. “It will be really fascinating to see as almost kind of a test case what the impact is, how people have found ways to use the building that support that, and how pedagogies and ways of teaching and learning have responded to the physical environment,” he says. “That’s going to be really one of the most interesting things to see.”


 

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