After more than four years of planning and construction, Johns Hopkins University on Thursday dedicated its new home in Washington D. C., an academic facility designed to extend its visibility and reach in the nation’s capital and maximize the impact of its research and scholarship.
The Hopkins Bloomberg Center is the new name of the 10-story former Newseum building that Hopkins purchased and repurposed with the goal of bringing the university’s Washington-based graduate programs under one roof.
In the process, Hopkins wound up creating an interdisciplinary facility that will provide opportunities for students from every academic division of the university to conduct research, take classes and attend concerts and lectures in Washington, supplementing the offerings available on Hopkins’ flagship Homewood and East Baltimore campuses.
This month, Hopkins announced the creation of a new School of Government and Policy that will be based at the Bloomberg Center – the first academic division launched at Hopkins since 2007. Starting next year, Hopkins undergraduates will have the option to spend a semester studying in Washington. The second-level Irene and Richard Frary Library is the newest branch of Hopkins’ vast Sheridan Libraries network.
“The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue is the physical embodiment of our aspirations for our university in this moment, in this time,” President Ron Daniels said at the dedication on Thursday, which drew several hundred people.
“But this building represents more than bricks and mortar masterfully assembled – far, far more,” he said. “It is also the physical manifestation of an idea born 150 years ago with the brave founding of our university…To see this new building stand among the U. S. Capitol building, the White House and the Supreme Court — the three branches of our democratic government – is both humbling and awe-inspiring.”
Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Hopkins alumnus for whom the building is named, didn’t attend the dedication.
He explained in a video that after three and a half years, “COVID finally got to me” but “I’m doing just fine and I’m with you in spirit for the dedication of a building that opens an exciting new chapter for Hopkins and for Pennsylvania Avenue…It really is a phenomenal achievement.”
In his video message, Bloomberg thanked Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser for her strong support of the Hopkins Bloomberg Center and saluted her for her efforts to reimagine the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor “in a way that embraces its history while creating new spaces” for the future.
“I think it’s fair to say that this building belongs as much to the city as it does to Hopkins,” Bloomberg said.
“Here in the heart of the nation’s capital, the center will host policymakers, opinion shapers and researchers from across a range of fields and political ideologies, work that will promote and strengthen our shared democratic ideals. Together, they will debate ideas, not shut them down. They will analyze evidence and data, not fabricate them. They will promote new knowledge and understanding that help tackle many of the nation’s and the world’s most difficult challenges. And they will help the university broaden the influence of its scholars, increase learning opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students alike, and elevate the visibility of Hopkins on the global stage.”
The former Newseum
Featuring views of the U. S. Capitol several blocks away, Hopkins’ 435,000-square-foot Bloomberg Center was created within the shell of the structure that formerly housed The Newseum, the multi-level attraction that was owned by the Freedom Forum and dedicated to news and journalism. Originally located in Rosslyn, Virginia, the museum opened on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008 and closed in December of 2019, after running into financial difficulties.
In January of 2019, Hopkins announced plans to acquire the property, and it completed the acquisition in June of 2020. To redesign the museum building for academic uses, it worked with three prominent architecture firms: Ennead Architects (the current name of the original designer of the museum, PolshekPartnership), Rockwell Group and SmithGroup. Oehme, van Sweden & Associates was the landscape architect.
Construction took three years, with Clark Construction as the general contractor. The project’s total cost was $647.5 million — $372.5 million to purchase the property and $275 million for construction. Opened in August for the fall semester, the building can accommodate more than 2,500 students and 650 faculty members.
Nod to Homewood
The center is anchored by Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Carey Business School, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Peabody Institute and the new School of Government and Policy, but it will host programming from every Hopkins division.
In addition to classrooms and meeting rooms of different sizes and configurations, the building contains a 375-seat theater with a 640-square-foot stage for Peabody Institute concerts and other performances; a fourth-level event space called The Link; a multimedia suite; three floors of conference space; a fitness and wellness center; a banquet hall, 16,888 square feet of landscaped roof terraces that provide panoramic views of the city; four large-scale works of art commissioned for the building; an abstract sculpture relocated from SAIS’ former home, and spaces for a future restaurant and café. An art gallery, named after Irene and Richard Frary, will open next year with exhibits drawn from the Frary Collections at Hopkins and others.
The architects included areas that nod to Hopkins’ Homewood campus, including a sloping lounge called ‘The Beach,’ a reference to the sloping lawn in front of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library in Baltimore. Three carpet-shaped sections of brick inlaid flooring on the building’s first level are set in a herringbone pattern that recalls brickwork on the Homewood campus.
The new art works are by Ethiopian installation artist Elias Sime; Brazilian muralist Sandra Cinto; Pakistani-American mosaic artist Shahzia Sikander and late American painter Sam Gilliam – his final piece, completed months before his death in 2022. Barbara Hepworth created the sculpture outside the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance. Visible in the seven-story atrium is a section of the Berlin Wall, a gift to SAIS from the Berlin Senate and a reminder of sorts of the Berlin Wall fragment that the Newseum displayed.
A boost for Washington, D. C.
Bowser, Washington’s mayor, took the podium to welcome Hopkins’ students and faculty, suggesting “you couldn’t ask for a better location.” She also thanked Bloomberg and Daniels for their vision, saying the academic center is a boost for the city’s revitalization efforts.
“This space brings together so many different pieces of our work,” she said. “It represents our primary downtown industries: feds, eds, meds and tech. It represents our ability to take old spaces and repurpose them into something beautiful and new…It represents our work to transform and modernize the historic corridor of Pennsylvania Avenue. It also represents the heart of our city’s five-year comeback plan, which is centered on Washingtonians, on our people. And we love, love, love to see so many students coming to this location.”
Washington “is already one of the most educated cities in the world, and it is because we have world-renowned institutions like Johns Hopkins here,” she said. “We know people come to Washington to change the world, and that’s going to happen right here.”
In his remarks Daniels referred to the Hopkins Bloomberg Center as “a magisterial new building in the heart…of our nation’s capital,” one composed of “10 stories of soaring staircases and walkways — literal avenues of possibility connecting people, ideas and disciplines” and “illuminated gathering and performing spaces that will catalyze countless convenings, conversations and serendipitous encounters,” with “artwork designed to challenge, to inspire and to lift the human spirit.”
He said it’s a place “where students and faculty will engage not only with one another but with international leaders, diplomats, national policy makers who are putting…ideas into action.”
Daniels also reminded the audience of Hopkins’ role as a pioneer in higher education.
“Johns Hopkins was not America’s first college,” he said. “But we are the nation’s first research university, founded with a visionary act of philanthropy that birthed into our nation a new form of higher education which has since become the envy of the entire world.
“Thanks to that vision, we were the first institution of higher education in America to weave together undergraduate teaching, graduate and post-graduate training, and faculty production of new knowledge. We were the first in America to build the university research laboratories, to launch academic journals, and to enlist our students in our creative scholarly endeavors. And we were the first to insist that our knowledge ought not to be shared with the privileged few, but offered up as a genuine public good even — and perhaps especially — when our knowledge, our analysis, our perspective, challenged entrenched orthodoxies. As our first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, once said, Johns Hopkins was, from its conception, free from the constraints of either church or state. It was built solely to promote the ‘discovery and promulgation of the truth.’ That was our university’s Declaration of Independence, and its realization coincided with the centennial of this nation’s separation of independence when we opened our doors in Baltimore in 1876.
Another visionary act
“Today, we stand together in a spirit of soaring hope and optimism to dedicate the manifestation of yet another visionary act of philanthropy, one that brings our university and our nation ever closer together, bound by proximity and purpose to advance reasoned debate and to foster evidence-based solutions for our democratic society. And in doing so, we acknowledge and we celebrate the continuation of an enduring and extraordinary partnership between America’s research universities and our national government that has fueled the collective mission of this country and nurtured some of this country’s greatest achievements.”
As Hopkins dedicates its new building, he said, “we also rededicate ourselves to the founding idea of the modern research university: To the university as an institution resolutely devoted to the promise of discovery and knowledge to impact our world, to the power of reason and of fact as the absolute, critical foundation for progress, to the spirit of convening and collaboration, of exploration and inquiry, even across the lines that threaten to divide and diminish us, and to an unyielding belief in the fundamental dignity and boundless potential of all people. This is our charge.”