Sixty years ago, black students at Baltimore’s Morgan State College couldn’t go to the movie theater in the shopping center just down the road from their campus. The students also weren’t served in the department store’s restaurant at the shopping center or the nearby ice cream parlor.
It took years of protests, sit-ins, and arrests—hundreds were hauled off to the city jail—before those businesses agreed to admit African American students.
Today this historically black institution, now Morgan State University, not only owns much of the land where its students were banned, but is using it to expand its campus with academic buildings that will help new generations of students get ahead.
To do so, it is relying on the talents of top-rated architects, including Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), Ayers Saint Gross (ASG), HOK and Cho Benn Holback + Associates.
In November, the public university opened the Morgan Business Center, home of
the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management, almost exactly where the department store restaurant used to be.
Designed by New York–based KPF and Baltimore’s ASG, the six-story, $72 million business center is the first of at least three buildings that will make up a new “west campus” that Morgan is building in place of Northwood Plaza, the strip shopping center that students fought to desegregate through the 1960s.
Construction has begun on a second structure within the former shopping center footprint, the $79 million Martin D. Jenkins Behavioral and Social Sciences Center, designed by HOK and Cho Benn Holback, and land has been set aside for a third academic building.
Morgan’s expansion makes it part of a trend in which historically black colleges and universities are investing heavily for academic buildings that are as well-designed and well-constructed as any campus buildings in the country.
Across town in Baltimore, Coppin State University, another historically black institution, just opened an $83 million Science and Technology Center by CannonDesign that was built to elevate the quality of teaching facilities there.
Because of the troubled history of the land where Morgan is expanding, the business center’s opening has great significance for students, faculty, and alumni. University President David Wilson calls it “the dawning of a new day in Morgan’s growth and progress.”
Wilson said today’s students and faculty at Morgan are benefiting from efforts not only to end discrimination but to improve the quality of teaching facilities and technology at historically black universities.
The new business center, he said, “is going to provide our faculty with the tools they need to teach at a higher level and our students with unique opportunities to be innovators on the global stage and to learn in a world-class environment that is second to none.”
“It not only serves as an attractive focal point for the campus, but it also serves as a great tool to support our outreach efforts to attract the top students and the most talented faculty,” said Fikru Boghossian, dean of the business school.
The school is named after Enterprise Magazine publisher Earl G. Graves Sr. The 140,000-square-foot business center features computer labs, classrooms, seminar rooms, a central atrium, a 299-person auditorium, a demonstration kitchen, and ten hotel rooms. One upper-level space is set up as a stock trading floor.
Andrew Klare, a director with KPF, said it is fitting that Morgan would build a business school to set the tone for its new west campus. He said business schools tend to be more sophisticated in their designs and finishes than many campus buildings because they are intended to prepare students for the corporate world off-campus.
As designed by KPF and ASG, Morgan’s business center has a distinctive shape, including a curving west wall and a south end that comes to a sharp angle, as if it is pointing. On the top level is a lounge with sweeping views of the city.
Klare and David Ottavio of KPF said the curving geometry was introduced to help make the new campus welcoming not only to students but the surrounding community. They said buildings arranged on a more traditional rectilinear grid might not have seemed as open or inviting.
Wilson explained that the design is “deliberate and symbolic.”
The north side, closest to the main campus, can be seen as a nod to the past and the institution’s shared history of fighting for civil rights, he said.
The south side, facing away from the historic campus, comes to an angle because it is pointing the institution in a new direction, he said: “It’s pointing to the future.”