BALTIMORE, MD – “A building that houses an institute dedicated to democracy should be open, accessible, transparent – the work is for everyone,” said Renzo Piano of designs for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute’s new home at Johns Hopkins University, according to a news release dated September 19.
Renzo Piano Building Workshop, the architecture firm behind the building, has shared its plans for the new building. SNF Agora is set to break ground in fall of 2020, with completion of the building expected to follow in 2022.
Of the announcement, SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos said that Renzo, both in his capacity as the architect and as a member of the SNF Agora Board of Overseers, “has thought deeply to create a building that fits Hopkins at large, the wider community, and this open, outward-facing institution. We can’t wait to see it take shape.”
Drawing inspiration from the Agora of ancient Athens, which was a hub of conversation and debate and the center of the city-state’s democratic governance, SNF committed $150 million to a joint effort with Johns Hopkins University to create the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute in 2018. The SNF Agora Institute brings together experts from fields such as political science psychology, and philosophy, to foster open and inclusive discourse.
According to the Baltimore Sun, reviews have been mixed from local city officials in Baltimore. SNF Agora Institute Executive Director Elizabeth Smyth said, “We’re serious about it being open to the broader community. Those on the outside can look in and see the work, and those on the inside can be reminded of the stakeholders whose work they’re doing on their behalf,” the Sun reported.
Baltimore’s “Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel said they commended the team’s intellectually minded approach to the institute, they also voiced concern that the structure will seem uninviting to those outside the campus,” the Sun reported.
Osbourne Anthony, an architect and member of the panel member, told the Sun, “The public and the community can see this as… democracy at a distance. The people piece just isn’t fully worked out yet.”
Chairperson of the panel Pavlina Ilieva was concerned that “the institute could come across as an impervious ‘building on a hill,’” the Sun reported, adding that “it’s important to reconcile this inside-outside approach with how it communicates with the rest of the world.”
Johns Hopkins’ Senior Director of Planning and Architecture Lee Coyle said, “This is an art piece, [Piano] wants this building to be more expressive,” the Sun reported.
Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels said in a statement, “This new building promises to be a gathering place for scholars and citizens to model the robust exchanges of ideas that are essential for healthy democracies. Renzo Piano’s design perfectly embodies the spirit of the SNF Agora by creating a space for thoughtful, deliberative, and collaborative engagement with the greatest challenges facing liberal democracy,” the Sun reported.