2015 Bmore Resilient Design Competition: Most Resilient Design – BeMORE Flats


Team: Camessia Johnson, Duncan Walker, Ben Brisley, Fernando Puyana, Negar Tabibian, Craig Purcell, Matt Newburn, Emily Hahn | School: Virginia Tech
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Project Narrative

An Urban Framework:

Living Artifacts and the Baltimore, Broadway East

Premise: The Baltimore Rowhouse is a living artifact, showcasing frugality through the replication of standardized, vertical, and minimalistic dwellings. During the early 20th century, this was the “ideal” housing solution for the industrial workforce of Baltimore. Today, Baltimore’s plight of vacant urban housing places a charge on the city to move towards community focused redevelopment that supports healthy, productive, and socially sustainable neighborhoods.

Analysis: The rowhouse typology has been repeated in such a large quantity that Baltimore is experiencing a lack of accessibility, community amenities, and outdoor space. This imbalance affects many neighborhoods across the city. Positive change will come by investing in abandoned buildings and lots to better serve existing residents and the surrounding community. Baltimore will not gain resilience through isolated adaptive reuse and unit renovation alone. Thus, our team sees this site as an opportunity to expand the design scope to address dwellings as well as the addition of community space. Our understanding of resilience and sustainability are portrayed through a multi-faceted, design approach to creating livable blocks.” It is important for any community to be connected to the natural and social environment. In designing this block we have asked ourselves:

  1. What opportunities would make a community a better place?
  2. Why would one choose to live there?

Dwellings: We believe that it is critical to maintain the architectural integrity of the existing neighborhood by restoring 100% of the front facades, honoring the Baltimore Rowhouse Style (Italianate Circa 1875 and Renaissance Revival.)  We have embraced the front facades as entry courtyards for residences at grade; providing refuge from the street; and allowing the homeowners to personalize the entrance. In order to soften the street edge, we are providing 7’-0” setbacks from the restored facades. We propose decorative grills, sliding shutters, and awnings for the existing openings to provide privacy yet allow light and air to come through. Providing operable fenestration and shading devices is a light touch that adds a level of interest to the streetscape through the creation of shade, shadow, and visual rhythm at the pedestrian scale. We also see these dwellings as an inward facing community fronting a central courtyard. After on-site analysis, we believe many of the rear facades are damaged beyond repair and lack historic significance. With that in mind, we prescribe full refurbishing of the rear facades to improve the building envelope, aesthetics, and materiality. New construction provides the opportunity to infill the lots using better quality insulation and recycled cladding materials.

Defensible Space. Adding civic realm and transforming the unit typology creates defensible space. By combining two parcels, we are able to infill one bedroom units at grade and spacious two bedroom units at the upper levels. Multi-family infill accommodates diversity and complex family structures. The tall, narrow, traditional rowhome is an antiquated typology that allowed residents to neglect rear yards. Our design advocates for horizontal distribution to elongate the dwelling and create more flexible living spaces. This approach allows families to lay claim to a large community courtyard. Units at street level are also handicap accessible. Upper level dwellings will have private stair with access to a roof deck with entertaining areas, green roofing systems, solar panels, and solar hot water collectors.  The green roof will be that of an extensive build up and will improve air and promote passive ventilation. We suggest low maintenance plants, succulents, grasses, and herbs. Stormwater management and heat island effect are two issues that would also be addressed  by  these  green  amenity  spaces.  By  limiting  impervious  surfaces  and  appealing  to  biophilia, residents will have an improved quality of life.

Parking is another concern for this development. Automated parking is one alternative (if needed.) However, why not free the ground plane from the machine for human occupation? We propose limited on street parking to afford residents, improved safety, accessibility, comfort, and walkability. This can be achieved by placing more emphasis on alternative transportation such as bicycles and mass transit. Furthermore, we suggest that Baltimore utilize some street parking spaces to hosts efforts in tactical urbanisim such as parklets, bike sharing, and places for community gathering, leisure, and recreation. These events have been proven successful in the past but have not been implemented in a comprehensive manner. By taking back the alley, planting trees, and reducing vehicular traffic along Prentiss Place, this street becomes a safer, cooler, traffic calmed place to live. We have also designated zoning for new street trees, bioswales, pervious paving systems, and programmed green spaces. These reforms accompanied by small, locally owned retail will make city blocks more enjoyable for pedestrians and more pleasant for other means of transportation.

Civic Center. We suggest transforming a largely vacant “hot spot” into a Community Civic Center. The location of the Civic Center does not alter the existing street grid but allows great visibility from North Patterson Park. Geographically, this site gradually slopes downward, to the Amtrak railway. We propose installing bioswales and rainwater harvesting devices for irrigation of urban farming and hydroponic initiatives. The Civic Center will simultaneously serve as a public cooling hub powered by alternative energy. In addition to artists work space, we propose adaptive reuse of the basements for refuge during power outages, inclement weather, and civic unrest. Due to noise, congestion, and health concerns, we propose the lots immediately adjacent to the Amtrak be redesigned as a neighborhood hub that serves all residents within a twenty minute walking radius. The Civic Center will provide employment as well as recreation for residents. It is a flexible space in which we envision a daycare, affordable housing units, a civic library, and classroom spaces to uplift the community. We also envision the rooftops as pervious surfaces for plantings, farming, and shared use of community domain. Residents in the general area will benefit from convenient access to healthy foods and a demonstration kitchen. Ultimately, the redevelopment of this site is a great opportunity to educate residents on healthy living, sustainable business, and green initiatives.

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