UMD Dedicates School of Public Policy Building That Invites Problem-Solving Discourse
By Lauren Brown
Photos by John T. Consoli
The School of Public Policy’s new home is inspired by ancient Greece, but Plato and Pericles would surely be befuddled by its immersive videoconferencing, mic’d-up seating and transparent walls.
Still, the great philosopher and politician would laud (with exceptional oratory) how the striking, light-filled structure, officially dedicated today, supports the school’s mission to advance the public good.
“This new building is a symbol of how we are taking on the responsibility of preparing and empowering the next generation of policy leaders and global citizens,” UMD President Darryll J. Pines said at the event, which also included special guests Bill Ferguson, president of the Maryland Senate; Adrienne A. Jones, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates; and Ethan Brown M.P.M. ’97, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat.
Opened this fall, the building draws together students, faculty and other experts in interconnected areas designed to foster world-changing discourse and discussions. The Agora, for example, is named for the central gathering place and marketplace of ideas in Athens often considered the birthplace of democracy, while the building’s deliberative classroom is a contemporary take on a classic parliamentary debate chamber.
“The building is designed to put students and faculty into practitioners' spaces and to shape future policy leaders who will shape the world,” said School of Public Policy Dean Robert Orr. “With its high-tech classrooms and collaborative meeting areas, students are in the best place to launch their careers and pursue the public good.”
The building’s placement is also thoughtful, at the nexus of “town and gown”: Built into the gentle slope north of Chapel Field, the facility faces that green space, along with the bustling Baltimore Avenue corridor and the Rossborough Inn and overlooking McKeldin Mall. The coming light-rail Purple Line will pass by the building, cementing its role as a welcoming entrance to campus.
The 70,000-square-foot building, made possible through the support of private donors in partnership with the state and university, also unites the School of Public Policy community under one roof for the first time in its 40-year history; its offices, centers and classrooms had been spread out over five sites across campus. Orr said the new hub, with its multifunctional and high-tech spaces, “will dramatically enhance the student experience.”
He and architect Irena Savakova M.Arch. ’95 of the firm Leo A Daly share more on how the building is, as she put it, “a link to the past and a window to the future.”
Agora Study Spaces
Savakova imagined the wide, gently descending ramp extending across the building as “a concourse of conversations.” This indoor plaza/lounge space is furnished with small tables and comfortable chairs where students can meet and work while looking out giant windows onto Chapel Lawn and down Baltimore Avenue. Shades activated by light sensors help maintain the building's temperature to minimize HVAC use.
This space for the entire university’s use has movable seating for 140 to allow students and instructors to collaborate in small groups. A glass-fronted conference room one level up in the back can serve as VIP or overflow space.
This oval-shaped forum is suitable for courses, public events and debates. It’s equipped with a state-of-the-art conferencing system, including microphones at all 50 seats and cameras that automatically track to anyone speaking, allowing classes to easily engage with students and experts around the world. “It literally gives students a voice” in discussions, Orr said.
Do Good Plaza
The outside area fronting the Rossborough Inn will celebrate UMD’s role as the nation's first Do Good Campus. Public art will include a set of giant illuminated rings that will activate as people pass through with audio on how Terps are doing good in the community and around the world. These rings will lead people into the atrium, where they can interact with displays that tell the university’s greatest “do good” stories.
Reading Room and Terrace
This flexible top-floor space connecting indoors and outdoors offers sweeping views and will host experts, speakers, and public and private leaders.
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