Perfect Harmony

The renovation of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University has united performance spaces with the surrounding community.
August 11, 2010

The Peabody Institute's concert hall (built in 1866) and its adjacent library (completed in 1878) were the first buildings on a campus envisioned to be a "common ground, where all may meet," by its benefactor, the 19th-century international banker and philanthropist George Peabody.

The six-building campus on the grounds of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, was built over a period of 138 years, connected by Peabody Plaza, an alleyway at the rear of the concert hall and library. Physically, the "common ground" Peabody sought was nowhere to be found.

Every time the institute added a building, "they tried a little more to tie the campus together, but it never really took," said architect Carl Elefante of Quinn Evans Architects, Washington, D.C.

Friedberg Hall and the George Peabody Library underwent a three-year, $26.8 million renovation that updated its building systems, enhanced the level of music education and performance capabilities, and created harmony between the Institute and its surrounding Mount Vernon Place Historic District. "This project tied the campus together, so that it really does flow now in a way that it just didn't before," says Elefante.

For this work, it was honored with a Merit Award by the judges in BD&C's 2004 Reconstruction and Renovation Awards.

Layout revised

The design team was charged with finding a way to connect the original two buildings with one main entrance, while giving concertgoers and students a place to congregate and bring them smoothly from the entrance down 20 feet to Peabody Plaza.

The result is the Grand Arcade, a 90-foot-wide, 120-foot-deep expanse that is considered the "central circulation spine at Peabody" by John Taylor, Gilbane Co., Providence, R.I., the project's construction manager.

 
Peabody Plaza: Friedberg Hall (left) and the George Peabody Library (right) were the first buildings at the 147-year-old music school.


Originally a light well between the two buildings, the Grand Arcade now has a glass roof that fills the space with natural light during the day and creates a dramatic view of the sky at night. The stairway connects the multiple levels of the adjacent buildings, improving circulation and bringing the campus together.




Floating sound

The East Rehearsal Hall, once a tiered lecture hall located directly under six stories of book stacks in the Peabody Library, was the project's biggest technical hurdle. First, four levels of tiered flooring had to be removed to create a new floor at one level. Then the room's original brick arches, installed in the 19th century to fireproof and structurally reinforce four cast-iron columns, had to be pried out brick by brick. The cast-iron columns beneath were reinforced with braces and updated to meet current structural standards.

 
The East Rehearsal Hall was created with a box-in-box construction, utilizing acoustical isolation joints and hangers that significantly heighten its performance capabilities.


The hall was then isolated from the rest of the library and renovated with box-in-box construction. The ceiling and walls were hung by isolation springs and separated from the existing structure to prevent any resonance of sound. The floor is a topping slab built over the larger structural slab, with a sound isolation system built between its layers. The room "floats" separately from the rest of the building.




Box-in-box construction was used in the Percussion Suite, the Cohen Davison Lecture Hall, and several practice rooms to provide enhanced acoustical capabilities.

Since the completion of the 24,000-sf renovation, the Peabody Institute has seen a 15% rise in the number of students auditioning for the school, but Elefante says that is not even its greatest measure of success.

"The number of times I've seen kids from the school sitting in the plaza, playing a guitar or some other instrument, shows that the renovation has been embraced as part of the school," Elefante says. "This is a music school. Every inch of it is a performance space. That, to me, is the thing that says it's a success as part of the campus."

         
 

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