A high-performance facade weaves a diverse program into a single volume.
The School of Law at the University of Baltimore was founded nearly nine decades ago, but for most of that time its classrooms, offices, library, and clinics were scattered among several downtown buildings. That changed last year, with the opening of the John and Frances Angelos Law Center. Designed by Behnisch Architekten with Ayers Saint Gross, the Angelos Law Center unites a diverse program within a single 12-story structure. Its checkerboard envelope, which won Best Facade in AN’s 2014 Best of Design Awards, weaves the building’s three principal components—a classroom and office wing, the library, and a central atrium—into a single volume. In addition, the facade positions the university on the cutting edge of sustainable design. Its integrated approach to energy efficiency has helped the Angelos Law Center win several green-building prizes, and set it on track to achieve LEED platinum status.
Behnisch Architekten took a tripartite approach to the design of the facade. The architects wrapped the portion of the building dedicated to offices and classrooms with an aluminum plate and punched window system. “This is the kind of facade that works very well with the kinds of spaces behind it, because those tend to be a bit more regulated and modular in the way they are allocated,” said partner Matt Noblett. For the library, the uppermost of the building’s two L-shaped volumes, the designers chose a frit glass with a pattern they call a basket weave. “The library, from a program perspective, is kind of a big soup,” said Noblett. There are group study spaces, offices, and, of course, the stacks. “[W]e wanted to find a way in the facade to do [something] more neutral, less specific,” he explained. “The basket weave is less specific in how the articulation of the facade related to the program behind it.” The third segment of the facade, transparent glass enclosing the building’s atrium, draws the two other volumes together.
The architects developed a unique sustainability strategy for each section of the building. For the office block, National Enclosure Company fabricated a unitized curtain system comprising the window surface, exterior blinds, and a glass rain screen. The Hunter Douglas Nysan blinds move up and down according to an automated program that operates the top one-third and bottom two-thirds of the windows separately. “It’s remarkable to look at the specific data, to see how much more of the year you’re able to maintain comfort without excessive amounts of air conditioning when you have an exterior sunshading system,” said Noblett, whose firm worked with Transsolar on the building’s climate engineering. Outside the blinds is a low-iron laminated glass rain screen mounted on aluminum brackets. While the architects initially designed the rain screen to protect the blinds, it also solved an architectural problem. “It had a tendency to reunify all of the facade into one building,” he explained. “The more you perforate, the less you read as one volume. By essentially shrink-wrapping [the offices and classrooms], you start to read it again as a [single] volume.”
The library at the Angelos Law Center is faced with frit glass from Viracon. “We did a lot of study with the manufacturer” to determine the gradient pattern, said Noblett. “What we wanted it to read was as purely white as possible. We wanted the ceramic as close to the surface as possible.” The goal was to reduce solar gain to the bare minimum. “If you were designing the building and didn’t care how it looked, you would just build a solid wall,” said Noblett. “The idea to add frit to make the wall essentially solid, [but] from the interior of the library it still feels like it’s open.” Outside the atrium, Behnisch Architekten installed a fixed brise soleil by National Enclosure Company on the south and west sides. The north side they left uncovered. All of the Angelos Law Center’s windows are operable, which, while not unheard of, is still unusual in a non-residential setting. “It’s hard to argue with a building where you can get comfortable by opening windows versus sealing up and running the air,” said Noblett.
Noblett describes designing a high-performance facade as “this game you’re constantly playing between how much light comes in and how much solar gain [results].” By that analogy, the Angelos Law Center is a check mark in Behnisch Architekten’s win column.