91: Tennessee Pink Marble | Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center

28m 42s |
In this episode, Cherise is joined by Richard Olcott, Design Partner at Ennead Architects in New York City, with offices in Shanghai and Los Angeles. They discuss the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center in Washington, D.C.

Commissioned in 2019, the Hopkins Bloomberg Center is the brainchild of Ennead Architects, Rockwell Group, and SmithGroup, who seamlessly melded exterior and interior elements to create a dynamic space unlike any other.

The 435,000 sq ft, flexible learning environment, often described as a "vertical quad," features an array of amenities including a theater, café, conference center, libraries, student lounge, and active learning classrooms, all interconnected through a series of innovative design concepts.

Project Name and Location:

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

The project we are discussing in this episode is the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center in Washington, D.C.

Project Completed: October 2023

The Program includes a Theater, Cafe, Conference Center, Libraries, Student Lounge, Multi-purpose Rooms, Higher-ed Collaborative Learning, Exterior Terraces, and Active Learning Classrooms.

Following Johns Hopkins University’s 2019 announcement of the acquisition of the Newseum building at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, the University commissioned Ennead Architects (Exterior Architect), Rockwell Group (Interior Architect), and SmithGroup (Architect of Record) to design the Hopkins Bloomberg Center, a state-of-the-art higher education facility to house all of Johns Hopkins University’s academic programming in Washington, D.C.

In collaboration, the architecture and design teams repurposed and transformed the building into the first- of-its-kind 435,000 square-foot multidisciplinary high-rise academic hub, designed to facilitate collaboration, dialogue, open inquiry, and public engagement in service of Hopkins’ mission to foster discovery and the global exchange of ideas.

The new academic campus reimagines this space as a “vertical quad” that is hyper-flexible. Featuring an all-new hospitality-infused design program that serves all types of students, needs, and moments during the day, the building includes an atrium with a cascading “room stair” that dynamically links all the academic floors, reinforcing the vertical quad and moving large groups of people throughout the building in support of its academic use; a “room bridge;” a “beach” for informal gathering; and a 370 +/- seat theater with pre-function space. In addition to the newly landscaped streetscape on the ground floor, there are also several landscaped roof terraces with stunning views of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol Building.

With a deep understanding of the existing conditions and opportunities within the previous building, Ennead maintained alignments already established but performed strategic shifts in the façade components to bring more natural light into the building, promoting a daylight-filled interior space supportive of its new purpose as a higher education facility. The reconfigured floor plates increase the building’s square footage, modify the building systems to support JHU’s academic efforts and sustainability goals, and provide greater accessibility. The project is targeting LEED Version 4.0 BD+C Silver certification.

The design teams achieved a strong visual relationship between Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Campus in Baltimore and D.C.’s local urban context. Reinterpreting the original Newseum façade, the renewed material palette includes more stone and masonry into the former all glass building and features a pale pink Tennessee Marble and copper interlayer in the glass, responding to the monumental character of the context.

Now, the Hopkins Bloomberg Center offers an opportunity to bridge the gap between cultural and commercial precincts by locating public-facing program elements like food service, retail, and public exhibition space so that they are visible and accessible to pedestrians.

Unique aspects of the project include:

The site is highly regulated, subject to the review of numerous federal and city agencies, including CFA, NCPC, NPS, etc. and the existing building fills the zoning envelope. Thus, additional required program was instead both within the atrium and within the large existing recess on the façade.

This is not only a radical intervention, one that is far more sustainable than new construction, but also represents a new educational typology for an urban academic building: a high-rise “vertical quad” created by the central atrium, which is populated with collaborative spaces and circulation, creating a vibrant central hub for the academic programs that share the building.

Major interventions include the complete reworking of the vertical circulation to suit the needs of a complex academic program, numerous re-aligned floors, and structural transfers to accommodate classrooms and a completely reconfigured auditorium. The new central spaces will create a nexus of activity throughout the day and evening, offering meeting, classroom, lounge and gathering spaces of varying types and scales, and blurring the traditional boundaries between them. Some spaces perform double duty as both gathering and circulation spaces, such as “The Beach” a tiered seating/stair area that recalls its namesake, the famous central sloping lawn at the Homewood campus. Other lounge and gathering spaces are poised to take advantage of natural light as well as the spectacular views of the Capitol.

The exterior has been completely reimagined to create a new identity and a more contextual expression that better relates to its important neighbors, such as Arthur Erickson’s adjacent Canadian Embassy, John Russell Pope’s National Gallery of Art and I.M. Pei’s National Gallery East Building across the avenue. This is primarily achieved by the use of pink Tennessee Marble, the same stone used in both National Gallery buildings, and also through the new glass curtain wall and sunscreens with a copper interlayer, as well as bronze trim at all openings. This palette is intended to harmonize with the surrounding buildings as well as recall the warmth of the Homewood campus materials such as brick.

At both the top and bottom of the building, new exterior gathering spaces were provided, including a café terrace on the avenue and new seating areas surrounding the reconfigured front entry, creating a welcoming inviting sequence and public amenity. At the roof, a series of new landscaped areas provide both seating and gathering spaces and a sustainable green roof.

Unique Products:

Materials for the Exterior:
- Copper Mesh Interlayer
- Tennessee Pink Marble: Monolithic corners & dry-lay process

- Interior Curtainwall: key customization, worked with local vendor to highly coordinate the system.
- Stretched Fabric Ceiling Panels at the Theater Interior: Pre-veneered Panel.

Theatre Ceiling:
- Custom fabricated fabric wrapped on shaped wooden ribs
- Acoustically transparent, light reflective surfaces

Interior Curtainwall at room stair:
- Customized interior curtainwall system
- Designed for acoustical separation and internal dispersion (anti flutter echo)

Photo Credit: Alan Karchmer

Richard Olcott is a Design Partner at Ennead Architects where, over the last four decades, he has developed an award-winning body of work for leading cultural, civic, and educational institutions around the globe.

Mr. Olcott’s work is grounded in the power of architecture as an interpretive medium, one that can communicate the complexities of contemporary society and create a lasting cultural impact.

He is interested in how architecture can reinvent itself within the existing urban condition through absorption, addition, and transformation.

Some of his notable projects include: Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University; the Anderson Collection at Stanford University; Yale University Art Gallery Renovation and Expansion; Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall; the New York Times Printing Plant; WGBH Headquarters in Boston; and the William J. Clinton Presidential Center.

Richard is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects and the recipient of the American Academy in Rome’s Founders Rome Prize Fellowship.

He was recently inducted into the National Academy of Design.


Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT  image
Cherise Lakeside, FCSI, CDT
Senior Spec Writer | RDH Building Science
Richard Olcott FAIA, FAAR image
Richard Olcott FAIA, FAAR
Design Partner | Ennead Architects