A special section of USGlass magazine
Colors All Around
Art and Architecture Combine
on the New Johns Hopkins Building
by Ellen Rogers
Combining both architecture and art, a new Johns Hopkins Hospital building
is scheduled to open in April as one of the nation’s largest hospital
construction projects. The new facility, which features a colorfully constructed,
artistic curtainwall façade, was a collaboration of artists, a
curator, a group of architects, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins.
The project was led by architectural firm Perkins + Will, while architect
Allen Kolkowitz provided consulting services.
Featuring the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center, named in honor
of the mother of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg—philanthropist
and Hopkins alumnus—and Marjorie B. Tiven, commissioner of the New York
City Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps & Protocol,
Brooklyn artist Spencer Finch was commissioned to create a colorful glass
façade for the 1.5-million-square-foot building, punctuated by
his hand-drawn frit pattern.
The project features aluminum panels encased in a shadowbox construction
made out of two layers of glass that incorporates one of Finch’s color
alphabet—a palette of 26 shades inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist
landscape paintings. Finch used blue as the dominant color for the Bloomberg
Children’s Center and green for the Sheik Zayed Tower.
“From the beginning we were thinking about glass as an [analogy] for water,
how glass and water behave in similar ways, and what we could do with
the glass so that it’s always changing,” says Finch. “Also it’s a big
building and it can be intimidating, but water has a certain softness
and welcoming aspect to it.”
The resulting design captures the light of the sky, allowing the building
to change in sync with the environment.
Finch spent months testing and developing a broad range of colors for
the building’s exterior, even observing test panels on the roof of a garage
across from the Bloomberg Children’s Center site to understand how his
palette would play with Baltimore’s light. He also worked closely with
the architects to determine how best to create the vision. “We went back
and forth a lot to really think about the connection between materials
used and how the colors would be perceived since this is a work of art
that will be around for a long time as part of the building,” says Eric
Van Aukee of Perkins + Will, managing principal on the project. “So we
put a system together with crystal clear glass that would always render
Finch’s true colors and we tested it rigorously to ensure that it would
stand up to the elements such as sun, high winds, condensation and rain.”
Aukee adds, “For other buildings, the art is usually done as an application
to the exterior in the form of a specific work, but here, the art is very
integrated into the functionality of the building. With Spencer, we were
really able to transform the approach to the skin of the building—thinking
of it not just as protection but also as a canvas. Together we turned
[the building envelope] into a work of art.”
Finch created a frit pattern for the project. As a two-layer composition,
his hand-drawn strokes are fused onto the building’s glass and steel curtainwall.
The frit brushstrokes are visible from the outside but do not obstruct
the view from inside.
ABCs of Color
In addition, all 26 colors of Finch’s color alphabet are on view at eye-level
along the side of the building, arranged in alphabetical order.
Finch explains, “I think initially one’s first thought is that children
like primary colors, that they have a very simple approach to color and
I think that’s really not the case. I think kids have an incredible sophisticated
color sense. I moved to a design that’s really pretty sophisticated and
complex with 26 colors and colors that are subtly different and reflect
the landscape, rather than being purely abstract.”
Viracon fabricated its VE13-2M and VE1-85 glass products for specifications
requiring insulating, insulating-laminated and silk-screened products.
Harmon Inc. was the contract glazier.
Finch says while he had the ideas for the colors, they still had to be
transferred onto a façade and that is incredibly complex.
“There was a lot of work done by the architects just to get the idea up
onto the building,” he says, explaining there was a lot of discussions
and meetings about the materials. “We all went to the glass company together
to look at the possibilities of frit. We looked at lots of different possibilities
for color [and] how to apply color to glass. For me it was a real education
in terms of what could be done in architectural glass solutions.”
As Michael Iati, senior director of architecture and planning, Johns Hopkins
Health System, explains, “The goal is to create a humane and dignified
experience for those under stress. The art created for the building and
the building’s design are central to elevating the experience of coming
to the hospital. Visitors and patients may not be able to quantify this
directly but they will feel the building’s uniqueness and comfort.”
Noting that everything about this project was a collaborative undertaking,
consulting architect Kolkowitz says everyone involved embraced the core
values and mission of the institution.
“It was an unbelievable opportunity to embrace the context of the building
and materiality of the building,” he says, pointing out that the frit
was a way to help humanize the building.
“The frit grabs onto the glass and becomes an integral aspect of the overall
flow and a way to blend into [the surroundings],” he says, adding that
99 percent of the building is fritted.
“The frit was not just an overall dot screen—it’s a part of the building
language to invite and bring people into the architecture,” says Kolkowitz.
“The frit played out to be an incredible surprise.”
Ellen Rogers is the editor of Decorative Glass magazine,
a sister publication of USGlass magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow her on Twitter @DG_Magazine.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.