The University of Baltimore's John and Frances Angelos Law Center, designed by Behnisch Architekten and Ayers Saint Gross.

Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and other legal luminaries convene in midtown Baltimore today to attend a preview of the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore. The 192,000-square-foot building, designed by Behnisch Architekten in partnership with Ayers Saint Gross, consolidates classrooms, offices, clinics, and a library for the first time in the School of Law’s 88-year history.

“Any investment had to speak to the university—forward-looking, open to light, and defining the campus as a place,” says Robert Bogomolny, president of the University of Baltimore. “The only thing I wouldn’t do was contextualism,” he adds, referring to brick-faced structures built in Baltimore in the last decade. The Behnisch–Ayers Saint Gross team earned the commission for the Angelos Center after a 2008 open competition whose shortlist also included Foster + Partners, Dominique Perrault Architecture, Moshe Safdie and Associates, and SmithGroup.

Located at the meeting point of local arteries Mount Royal Avenue and North Charles Street, yet hemmed in on its north side by the Jones Falls Expressway and a corresponding ramp, the project’s wedge-like site is both “left over and an important neighborhood intersection,” as Behnisch partner Robert Matthew Noblett puts it. Unrestrained by the jumbled environment, Noblett explains that program drove the massing of the design, with the intended effect of beckoning people northward from downtown. He also refers to the building as a gateway for travelers arriving at Baltimore’s centenarian Pennsylvania Station across the freeway.

Although one story shorter than originally proposed, that massing faithfully abides the original winning concept. The 12-story building comprises interlocking forms representing different functions, which is made more legible by differing facades. Student and faculty spaces are skinned in a punched-window system veiled by glass rain screens, whereas the basket weave-fritted library volume folds over the top of the building and meets the middle of the east elevation. Glazing with operable windows and fixed louvers marks the building entrance, as well as all common spaces within.

The most spectacular of these shared spaces is the publicly accessible atrium that wends to the top of the Angelos Center. Not unlike Behnisch Architekten’s Genzyme Center in Boston, the Baltimore atrium aims to enhance communication between different occupants. Crisscrossing stairways resolve staggered floor heights between offices and classrooms, and breakout zones—identified by seating, ceiling-mounted acoustical dampeners, and maple countertops—encourage socializing and learning. Community members attend legal clinics via a separate, secure entrance. 

Alongside radiant concrete slabs, rainwater harvesting, universal LED lighting, and other strategies, the atrium also contributes significantly to the environmental performance of the Angelos Center, which is projected to beat ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2004 by 43 percent and contribute to an anticipated LEED-Platinum certification. A tempered opening in the roof permits a thermal chimney effect, as well as some natural illumination, yet due to summertime solar angles, daylight penetrates the building largely through the atrium glazing on the north and south elevations. Sidelighting has the added benefit of preserving views to the Beaux Arts train station.

“The quality of the space matches what you think of the people using it,” concludes Bogomolny, the university president. In addition to Tuesday’s preview, an official opening celebration for the Angelos Center will take place April 30, with remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan and Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, among others.