When Anika Penn earned her master’s degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University more than 10 years ago, she found inspiration in her professors, in the mission of the program, her fellow grad students, but not in the buildings on Massachusetts Avenue that housed the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
She found them a little “bleak” with a communist-bloc vibe that did not exactly ignite her passions. So, Penn instead often studied in the D.C. public library.
Now, “the building finally matches the quality of the school,” Penn said, standing in the grand atrium of the university’s new Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center on Pennsylvania Avenue NW at the site of the former Newseum journalism museum.
The university opened the building to graduate students this fall and officially dedicated its gleaming Washington, D.C., outpost Thursday morning before a gathering of around 1,000 people, many of them alumni and board members.
Plenty of pageantry accompanied the dedication, with dueling drum corps, demonstrations of traditional dancing from around the world, and a Broadway-like performance by the student opera. Banners from the various schools represented at the Bloomberg Center were carried to a stage in a procession.
Hopkins President Ronald Daniels spoke about the cities of Baltimore, where Hopkins is based, and D.C., “bound by proximity and purpose,” as he opened the daylong ceremony. He introduced D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who welcomed the school to the neighborhood and called out one of her staff, Ciana Creighton, the interim deputy mayor for the city’s office of health and human services.
Creighton, 28, earned her master’s in public health from Hopkins and is currently pursuing her doctorate while serving as a teaching assistant. As a grad student, she also worked as project manager for a medical intervention related to African American women with hypertension. In a month, she gets a break when she relinquishes her deputy mayor title and goes back to being chief of staff. Yes, she stays busy. And, as Bowser said, “we want more Cianas.”
The Hopkins Bloomberg Center hopes to produce more like her.
Creighton immediately noticed on her first visit to the building how much light streamed into the interior. As a former resident of Baltimore (where she attended Loyola University Maryland as an undergrad), and now a resident of a city full of transients, she said, the light represented transparency and an invitation to come inside.
“It signals that everyone is welcome at the table,” she said.
The School of Advanced International Studies is the principal beneficiary of the 12-story glass building, which will give it a resplendent presence in the corridors of power. But the center will also host elements of many other schools: business, arts and sciences, public health, medicine, nursing, education, engineering, the Peabody Institute (music and dance), and the applied physics laboratory.
Within a few years, the Hopkins Bloomberg Center will also be the home of a School of Government and Policy.
Having a satellite location in D.C., or for that matter any major world city, is not new for Hopkins, nor is it new for many colleges, but the opening of the Hopkins Bloomberg Center ups that ante, a trophy like few others in academia. Although the building has classrooms and a library, very little of the inside suggests school. Its architecture more resembles spaces used for art, performance, offices and even hotel lobbies.
“There is no comparison to the old space,” said Lee Kempler, an alum and chair of the SAIS school’s board of advisers. “This is a dream solution to what seemed like an intractable problem.”
The property, located between the White House and the U.S. Capitol, is also across the street from the National Gallery of Art. The building was purchased in 2019 for $372.5 million, $70 million of which was for an adjoining residential building that is leased out. The cost of renovation added $275 million to the total price of the 435,000-square-foot, 12-level building, named for one of the school’s prime benefactors, Mike Bloomberg.
The former New York City mayor and 1964 Hopkins grad was scheduled to speak at the ceremony, but addressed the crowd instead in a video, saying a diagnosis of COVID prevented him from attending in person. Another famous alum, the CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, spoke at the ceremony. He said his studies (he earned a masters in international relations in 1972) formed the foundation of his work covering international news.
The new building has three floors of conference space, 38 classrooms (some of them cantilevered so that they float), a 375-seat theater that could be used for performances or lectures, as well as broadcast studios. A library and soon-to-come art gallery and cafe complete the soaring space that the old school never was — the ultimate deterrent to remote work or remote learning. The center is expected to provide space for 2,500 or more students and 650 faculty and staff.
More than a pretty building, the new school was created to be a physical place of connections, between people and ideas.
“The whole point of the building is connection,” Penn said.