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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

First Impressions

It was a transformation three years in the making. This summer, amid much anticipation, the doors to the new and improved Gilman Hall opened to reveal a dramatically different space. The return home to Gilman was a staggered affair, with some arriving midsummer to begin unpacking their offices or to offer tours, and others on the first day of classes, August 30. In the vignettes that follow, we set out to capture those "first" experiences of return—moments ripe with excitement, discovery, and reflection.

New Possibilities

Teaching assistant Rebecca Buckham puts her hand on the doorknob of Gilman 400—and holds her breath.

It's the first day of classes and she wants to get inside and unpack before students begin arriving for her discussion section on Shakespeare. Buckham pushes open the door, walks into the classroom, and stops. For a few seconds she takes in its two stories and wraparound mezzanine, its huge, arched windows flooding the room with light, the bell tower overhead. She exhales. This is no ordinary classroom. It's a room filled with possibilities.

"This is so airy and uplifting," says Buckham, a second-year PhD student in English. "I hope the brightness and the open space will encourage a kind of imaginative energy that works itself into our conversations about Shakespeare's plays."

After three years and a sweeping $73 million renovation, Gilman Hall has been transformed. Its dark, shabby rooms, clanking radiators, and maze-like layout are all things of the past. Now the Homewood campus' oldest building is equipped to educate and support its second century of humanities students and scholars with state-of the-art classrooms and seminar rooms, faculty offices, a museum, and places to meet and study.

Gilman reopened its doors over the summer. But it is only on August 30, the first day of classes, that the 146,000-square-foot building springs to life. The espresso machine in the atrium café whirs nonstop. Students stream through the polished hallways greeting friends and professors. Doors open wide to reveal new furniture, fresh paint, and in some cases, entirely new rooms.

All around there is a feeling of discovery. In Marjorie Fisher Hall, the new 145-seat auditorium where the campus book store used to be, students in Professor Gabrielle Spiegel's medieval history class appraise the room's projection booth, motorized screen, whiteboard, and "smart" podium. Spiegel briskly navigates the path from her third-floor office to the basement room. "It's a very pretty room," she says.

Up on the third floor, Maria Braileanu '11 sits in a small nook overlooking the atrium and smiles at the hive of activity below. As a freshman commuter student, Braileanu spent hours in Gilman studying in the Hut, lounging on the leather couches in Memorial Hall, attending classes. "When I heard about the renovation I was worried that it might rob Gilman of its character," she says. Now that Gilman is open again, Braileanu can see for herself that her concern was unnecessary.

"It feels like coming home."

Grand Tour

Yana Demireva doesn’t just tell people what it’s like to be a Johns Hopkins student. She shows them.

On the Homewood campus tours she leads for the undergraduate admissions office, Demireva ’11 takes prospective students and their families to Hackerman Hall to see the mock operating room and the robotics lab, heads to the dance studios and Digital Media Center in the Mattin Center to highlight the arts, and visits the freshman quad to showcase on-campus housing.

However, when it comes to illustrating humanities scholarship at Hopkins, she always found herself at somewhat of a loss. “Humanities research isn’t really something you can show,” she says. Until now.

One morning in August, Demireva leads a tour of 30 through Gilman Hall, demonstrating how the smart classrooms and spacious seminar rooms of the newly renovated building are well equipped to train future humanities scholars. The tour-goers admire the grandness of Memorial Hall, examine the university seal on the foyer floor from a respectful distance, and see how it feels to sit in a classroom where Hopkins students and professors have engaged in the exchange of ideas for almost a century.

The questions are few. Mostly the first-time visitors marvel at how a building that looks so old on the outside can be so modern and high-tech inside. “Being able to show them Gilman offers proof that the humanities at Hopkins are just as important, just as strong as the sciences are,” says Demireva, who is majoring in anthropology and public policy and has a minor in museums and society. “It really exemplifies the progressive scholarship in the humanities that we do here.”

The tour heads toward the library and as they pass by a handful of buildings with the same red-brick façade and dormers as Gilman, someone asks Demireva, “Are all of the buildings at Hopkins that new inside?”

“They all have similar state-of-the-art technology inside,” Demireva says. Her next thought she keeps to herself. There’s only one Gilman.


Uniting the Humanities

In mid-July, six weeks before Gilman’s official reopening, Professor Frances Ferguson’s office, Gilman 34, is in a state of semi-disarray. It’s just a few days after the English Department’s move back to Gilman and a 3-foot-high stack of cardboard boxes towers next to her desk, half of her bookshelves are empty, and the walls are blank.

Despite all she needs to do, Ferguson is content to take a few moments from unpacking to enjoy just being back. “I’ve always loved this building,” says Ferguson, who began her career at Hopkins in 1973. “For so long Gilman had been a building that was essentially rotting on the vine. Now it feels wonderful for it to be functional. Really, it’s just stunning.”

Being back in Gilman means more to her than a spacious new office and new classrooms, she says. It’s about being part of a community. “Gilman has beautiful wide hallways with ample space for people to run into each other and chat,” Ferguson says. “Now that all of the humanities are here we will have easier access to information about the talks and seminars going on. I think it’s going to contribute enormously to the intellectual life of our humanities departments.”

During her last two decades on the faculty, Ferguson served on two planning committees that looked at options for renovating Gilman. One plan was shelved about 10 years ago when the university was unable to come up with funding. The other plan, this one, took years to come to fruition. It was worth the wait.

Gazing at the cream-colored wall in front of her door, Ferguson considers the artwork she plans to hang there. It’s an 1893 artist’s rendering of a building at Potter College for Young Ladies, a long-defunct school in Kentucky. The picture depicts an elegant, three-story Italianate structure surrounded by leafy trees—a projected addition to the school. It is extolled on the poster as “splendidly equipped.”

“Their projected addition never got built,” says Ferguson, smiling. “But ours has.”


The Write Space

The new home of the Expository Writing Program in Gilman is only 100 footsteps away from the program’s old offices in the Greenhouse. But for program director Patricia Kain it’s a huge change. In fact, “It’s an entirely different world,” she says.

Expository Writing is one of a handful of programs to make Gilman its new home this fall. Other new residents of the building, which unites the school’s 10 humanities departments, include the History of Art Department, the Department of History of Science and Technology, and the Program in Museums and Society.

Kain’s program is new to Gilman, but she is not. A 1978 MA graduate of the Writing Seminars, she knows the building well. Her office, Gilman 012, used to be the classroom where she took John Barth’s fiction workshop, and she’s taught in Gilman’s basement classrooms for years. “When I came back to Hopkins in 2004, everything in Gilman looked exactly the same—the strange little bathrooms, the café, the location of the English Department,” she says. “Everything.”

Not anymore. Consider the Writing Center, newly relocated to the North Wing of the Hutzler Reading Room. The center, which schedules 2,500 appointments annually to help students with academic writing assignments, had been housed in a cramped space in the Greenhouse, off the beaten path. Now that it’s in a bustling location, a favorite place for late-night study, director Jason Hoppe expects business to pick up even more.

“In the Greenhouse a lot of the walk-in traffic we got was people dropping in to see the flowers,” Hoppe says.


A Museum with Glass Walls

Ask Betsy Bryan to name the biggest difference between the new Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum in the atrium of the renovated Gilman Hall and the collection’s cramped, dimly lit former location in Gilman, and she’ll cite the natural light, spacious exhibition and teaching space, and the gleaming custom-built display cases and cabinets.

But to Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology and director of the Archaeological Museum, what’s most remarkable about the museum is its location at the heart of Gilman Hall. “You can actually find the museum and see the objects that were entirely lost inside the former space,” she says. “It is night and day.”

The university’s archaeological collection is more than just centrally located: It’s accessible and available to all. The two-sided display cases that form the walls of the 1,600-square-foot space allow visitors to see hundreds of objects on display, even when the museum is closed. “Most museums are dark boxes that are only open certain hours,” says museum curator Sanchita Balachandran, a lecturer in Near Eastern studies. “The whole design of this museum is built around the idea that the collection is meant to be accessible and seen. We are inviting the university community to have a hands-on experience with ancient objects.”

The archaeological collection, established in 1882 with the interest of Daniel Coit Gilman, contains more than 8,500 objects from the Mediterranean, Near East, Egypt, and the New World, the oldest dating from 5,000 B.C. Some of the items on display at the museum, which will celebrate its grand re-opening in December, include a marble Eros figure from 2 A.D., a collection of painted kylixes (drinking cups) from ancient Greece, and an ornate gilded Egyptian mummy mask, ca. 200 B.C., on loan as part of the Eton Collection.

Bryan is hopeful the museum’s increased visibility will lead to more students and faculty from a variety of departments coming to work with the items and learn from them. “These objects represent in many ways the times and cultures that are central to the humanities, but up until now it has primarily been the classics, Near Eastern studies, and history of art faculty who have been directly involved with the objects,” she says. “Now it’s a perfect kind of heart for the building. There really is something for everyone.”


Historic Meets State of the Art

Carl Goldberg with Dean Katherine S. Newman and on tour with the advisory board in June.

Photo: Willkirk/

Carl Goldberg stands in the atrium of Gilman Hall, looks up at the sun streaming through the vaulted glass skylight and smiles. “I’m overwhelmed,” says Goldberg ’72, glancing around the former unused light well now transformed into a courtyard flooded with warmth and light. “This is the culmination of a dream.”

It has been 10 years since then-dean of Artsand Sciences Daniel Weiss asked the New Jersey real estate developer to join a group charged with examining how to make the historic structure modern, functional, and environmentally sustainable without compromising its historic integrity. Now the renovation is finally complete—and it includes the Sylvia Goldberg Memorial Wing in the Writing Seminars Department, the result of a gift Goldberg made to the renovation effort in his mother’s honor.

Like a proud papa showing off his new baby, Goldberg strides through the building during a summer tour with the school’s advisory board (of which he is a member), pointing out features that a casual visitor might never notice: the double-hung windows that look exactly like the originals but conserve energy, the high-efficiency HVAC system silently cooling the building on this steamy summer day, the skylights warming the atrium with passive solar energy. “The challenge was to reinvent the building without losing any of its historic grandeur or making it look like any other building on campus. We needed to maintain Gilman as Gilman,” says Goldberg.

On his first visit to campus as a prospective student in 1968, Goldberg noticed Gilman’s dirty windows, peeling paint, and awkward staircases. What made the biggest impression on the teenager as he settled into life at Hopkins, however, was the building’s ability to draw people together. “There were all of these special centers in Gilman where people could meet,” he says. “It was a magnet.”

And as he leans against a wall in the empty courtyard, he considers the students who will come to Gilman now to study and talk, drawn as he once was by its common areas, central location, and special kind of magnetism. “It’s a different world today than it was when I was at Hopkins,” Goldberg says. “Gilman has to fulfill their needs.”

Connecting People…and Ideas

Elizabeth Rodini (right), confers with colleagues Stuart K. Leslie and Hérica Valladares in Leslie’s office.

Photo: Willkirk/


In 1915 when Gilman Hall opened its doors, it was state of the art, a building that was the embodiment of a modern research and teaching university. Classrooms, seminar rooms, and offices encircled the university’s library at Gilman’s center, its books nourishing humanities scholarship for decades.

Scholarship has evolved over the last century to become more interdisciplinary and collaborative, and the new Gilman is a reflection of that. The volumes and dusty dissertations once shelved in the building’s core are gone now, replaced by offices where faculty from all of the humanities departments can work together.

“Buildings tell you a lot about attitudes,” says Elizabeth Rodini, a lecturer in the History of Art and associate director of the interdisciplinary undergraduate Program in Museums and Society. And Gilman Hall is no different. Prior to the renovation, this was a building whose layout emphasized scholarship by individuals and departments. Now, as Rodini stands behind her desk in Gilman 363, one of the new offices located where the library stacks were, and surveys the courtyard though her window, she sees a different kind of space—one that connects people and their thoughts with one another, one that fosters interdisciplinary scholarship.

Two weeks into the semester Rodini is already enjoying how Gilman is bringing her together with her humanities colleagues. “We could connect by phone or email [before], but face to face is important,” she says. A few students have stopped by unannounced to see her—a rare occurrence when her office was located off campus, and she regularly runs into Richard Kagan and Gabrielle Spiegel, both faculty in history. As if to bring home her point, Stuart W. Leslie, a professor in the History of Science and Technology Department, wheels his bike by her open door as she is talking. His office is at the end of the hall. “I’ve already seen more colleagues in the last two weeks than I saw in the last 10 years,” says Leslie.

Rodini glimpses students studying below and knows that Gilman is a space for working, catches sight of the museum floor and sees the building as a place for open inquiry. Even the windows of other faculty offices overlooking the courtyard give her a sense of the activity in the building and make Gilman feel approachable. “This is a space that says a lot about a vision of collaboration, access, and openness.”





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