Tuesday, November 17, 2015

B-MORE | RESILIENT : One Winning Response to AIA's Rowhouse Competition 2015

Resiliency is the fashionable word that replaced sustainability and like its predecessor, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people but all agree on the urgency for cities to become more sustainable and resilient, be it because of more extreme weather or be it because of the urgent need for more social coherence and resilience.
AIA Baltimore Competition poster

Earlier this year the Baltimore Institute of Architects and its "Knowledge Communities of the Environment (COTE) and of Resiliency teamed up to offer a design competition in which a student of architecture and a licensed architect had to team up to participate and submit design ideas. They defined the problem this way:
When the power goes out, a big storm hits, or civil unrest disrupts the pattern of life in the city, the existing fabric of that city is challenged. As our physical and social climate changes, the built environment, along with the people who reside within it, will continue to struggle. The sooner the urban fabric of Baltimore can adapt to these challenges, the more resilient our city can be.
This competition focuses on how to provide innovative design solutions to transform Baltimore City’s existing vacant housing stock to be more resilient. The COTE and Resiliency Committees of AIABaltimore have partnered with representatives from Baltimore City to develop a competition that can help provide real ideas to solve real problems.
AIA had announced the winners last month together with the Awards for Design Excellence .This Monday the winning entries were on display at the Rotunda of City Hall to win council people and city department staff over to the idea of thinking about resiliency in a new way. (In fact Resiliency is very much on the agenda of the Office of Sustainability which resides inside the Department of Planning).
the block given for the competition shows many vacant rowhouses (red squares)

The winning entries can also be seen here. Participating students came from Harvard, the University of Maryland, Salisbury University, Morgan State University, Washington University, Maryland College of Art, and Virginia Tech.

One entry in particular struck my imagination in part because the student participant was at the Rotunda to explain it to me and in part because I think the proposal has a lot of relevance.  I want to describe it here in some more detail: It is called Distributed Infrastructure and addresses the full block of row-houses given as the problem in their entirety and develops the sustainable and resilient design strategies not on the level of the individual house but on the block level. The entry addressed not only the physical side of resilience but also addressed social needs.

An "armature" spans over many rowhouses at once and even goes across an alley, it goes across many roofs but can also fold down on the sides of houses and it can carry solar panels, landscaping and shading devices. In other words, it offers a variable flexible outer skin much in the same way as the rain screens on dual facades do.

Rainwater collection,  stormwater and even wastewater treatment is likewise a shared facility, like "the armature" managed by some type of homeowner association or management co-op. This approach correctly understands that resilience and sustainability needs scale to work, in this case the scale of a full city block located north of the EBDI area in East Baltimore, on the north side of the Amtrak tracks.
the familiar view of boarded rowhouses in the block

In my eyes this "armature" or scaffold that spans across the houses and down their sides is a wonderfully flexible approach that allows historic homes to achieve much better energy and water performance without getting into all the issues of historic preservation that conventional approaches like standard wall insulation, high performance windows or green roofs typically would. By not literally touching the rowhouse the new "overlay" can provide shading, solar energy collection and edible vertical or horizontal gardens and leave what is historic intact. Blank sidewalls can become green-walls, unsightly metal awnings can be exchanged by shading photo-voltaic cells or shading plants and even roof observation decks could be held up by the new overlaying structure. The overlay approach successfully used for energy efficient large office structures around the world could even become the beginning for bio-mimicry in which the building automatically responds to chnaging outside conditions just like biological systems do.
the section through the competition entry called Distributed Infrastructure

an elevation of the entire block shows the wrapping overlay

The licensed architect for the entry was Alexander Dzurec of autotroph design, Santa Fe, NM and the participating student member Renata Southard of the University of Maryland at College Park. My apologies to all the other winners for not discussing their projects in more detail.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


AIA website
A rendering shows the use of a vacant lot for what the entry calls
community Pop Up spaces

External Resources

Baltimore Disaster Preparedness and Planning Project (DP3) – http://www.baltimoresustainability.org/disaster-preparedness-and-planning-project
A More Sustainabile and Resilient Baltimore – https://baltimorehazards.wordpress.com/disaster-preparedness/
Transform Baltimore Zoning Code – http://www.rewritebaltimore.org/
Resilient Design Institute – http://www.resilientdesign.org/
National Institute of Building Sciences Fact Sheets – http://www.nibs.org/?page=factsheets
Baltimore Streetscape Design Guidelines – http://www.godowntownbaltimore.com/docs/streetscapeguidlelines.pdf
Creating Defensible Space – http://www.huduser.org/publications/pdf/def.pdf
Alternative Energy – http://www.altenergy.org/

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