Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Designed in Baltimore

An all Texan jury under the leadership of former UT Austin architecture Dean Larry Speck gave Baltimore's architectural community high praise last week when he announced the winner of year's design awards. Ten honorable mentions and ten design awards, that's a lot of awards. Speck said that the jury just had to do it, there were so many good entries across so many firms. "That is unusual", he says, "most places where I am juror a small number of firms gets all the awards"
Reopened: Front entrance of the BMA
(photo: Philipsen)

Non architects and some architects as well would find it hard to believe. Baltimore isn't exactly known for new and bold architecture. Yes, architecture is often brought up as one of the bright spots of Baltimore, but usually people refer to the many historic jewels the City has, from the Peabody Library to the Basilica of the Assumption and from the First National Bank Tower on Light Street to the former B&O headquarters on Charles.

Given the rich panoply of historic architecture it isn't surprising then, that Baltimore's claim to fame in architecture is rehabilitation and adaptive re-use, the ability to renovate old spaces in fabulous ways that are authentic and particular to Baltimore.

In that vein, the grand design award winner is Ziger Snead Architects for their BMA renovation. The jury praised the design approach profusely:
"This was a difficult project to accomplish and the design team did an amazing job. It is clear that the experience of the visitor is central to the project’s design goals. The transformation of the entry and reopening of the original entrance is outstanding. It is very hard to insert new elements, systems, and materials in a way that doesn’t detract from the art. The new interventions are very sensitive. It takes strength to look back and unravel past decisions and reset the institution."
Front Lobby of the BMA (photo: Karl Connolly)
The grand award and its reasoning is a long way from the standard expectation that many people have about architects as people who only care about glossy pictures of their designs in esoteric magazines.

Architecture that doesn't care about people or function and is obsessed with style is on the decline. Design thinking is on the rise. In the new approach architecture is achieved not so much by lone artists but by interdisciplinary teams who obtain high levels of knowledge about what happens in a building, who uses it and how it fits in its setting.

Ziger-Snead received the most awards in the 2016 season, closely followed by Ayers Saint Gross. The Ziger-Snead team also received an award for the Parks and People headquarters near Druid Park for precisely how well they hid the large new construction program so the historic building can shine. Another award went to the Friends School addition of a performing arts center and to the renovation of the Center Theater on North Avenue, now the Impact Hub.
Parks and People Headquarters
(photo: Karl Connolly)

Ziger Snead's probably most recognizable building in Baltimore is the Brown Center on MICA's campus that the firm did in collaboration with Charles Brickbauer a building that some may think fits the description of the crazy solitaire until they hear the very careful orchestration that the colors, shape and placement of the building received.

Congratulations to Ziger Snead for their sensitive and people centered approach to architectural design!

For a full list of all awards go to the AIA website 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Frriends School, Baltimore Performing Arts Center
(photo: Karl Connolly)