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The main academic building on the Annapolis campus, Mellon Hall stands out against a backdrop of colonial architecture, but this midcentury modernist building has its own historical significance: it was designed by famed architect Richard Neutra and is one of the few remaining Neutra creations on the East Coast. Over the past six decades, Mellon Hall had lost some of Richard Neutra’s signature design elements.
The original construction included classrooms, laboratories, the Francis Scott Key Auditorium, and the McKeldin Planetarium. Subsequent renovations created the Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Art Museum (formerly the Mitchell Gallery) and the gathering area affectionately known as the Fishbowl. Apart from a conference room, however, no new programmatic space was added over a six-decade period; and despite Neutra’s own hope that Mellon Hall would be the creative hub of campus life, the building offered limited space for music and the arts.
In 2020, the college enlisted three firms—including David M. Schwarz Architects, owned by alum David Schwarz (A78)—to expand Mellon Hall’s academic spaces and provide inspiring areas for study, collaboration, and creative pursuits. The lobby has been transformed from a relatively empty and underutilized space into a comfortably furnished commons area that is suitable for small gatherings and private study but flexible enough to accommodate larger events. Greater ADA accessibility and the inclusion of gender-neutral restrooms are among the many other improvements that foster a more welcoming environment in the commons area and throughout Mellon Hall.
Acoustics were an important factor in the redesign of the Conversation Room, the central meeting space for the entire campus community. In addition to 50 percent more seating, the room contains new design elements, including a convex ceiling and padded wall paneling, that minimize echoes and reduce outside noise.
Creative expression is central to a St. John’s education. In addition to studying music as part of a liberal arts curriculum, students can participate in a flourishing extracurricular arts program that includes the St. John’s Chorus, numerous bands, and the student theatre troupe, the King William Players. To address the need for performance space, a portion of the auditorium’s backstage has become a light-filled studio that converts to a black-box theatre when the full-perimeter ceiling-to-floor curtains are drawn.