Placing model

Assistant Professor Sanjit Roy places a student's model of a community town hall, in place in the Federal Hill model. Students in Jeremy Kargon's and Sanjit Roy's Morgan State graduate level architecture studio classes, are focusing on projects in Federal HIll's business district. They've been asked to come up with designs for a community town hall near the market and to look at ways to reinvent the market. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr. / September 22, 2011)

The cardboard models showed what a new town hall near Cross Street Market in Federal Hill could look like.

The graduate architecture students at Morgan State University crowded around professor Sanjit Roy as he critiqued the miniature buildings one by one.

Roy picked up one model, carved out a section with an Exacto knife and reattached it at another spot to demonstrate how to improve the flow.

"An urban site is ultimately all about movement," Roy told the students, and sent them back to their workstations to make revisions.

Leaders in Federal Hill hope the students' work will lead to real changes in their neighborhood. It was the Federal Hill Main Street program that approached the architecture programs at the University of Maryland and Morgan State about developing new visions for Cross Street Market and the surrounding business district.

The market, established in the 19th century, is one of five owned by the city in the oldest continuously operating public market system in the nation.

Ideally, the neighborhood leaders say, the showcase and publication next spring of the students' work will spark interest from the community, developers and city officials in revitalizing the area.

"We have a market that's not functioning to its capability," said Michael Burton, the local architect who chairs the Federal Hill Main Street design committee. "The challenge is what can be done to make the market the heart and soul of the neighborhood public space."

Burton and others say the two-block-long, windowless concrete market, built in 1952 after a fire destroyed an earlier building, could be made more open and inviting.

It was Burton who approached the universities.

"I thought, 'How can we make our neighborhood a better place in a bigger context, by really looking hard at our neighborhood, at the business district and what's working and what's not?'" he said.

He considered launching a design competition. But opening it up to professional firms, he concluded, would make the process too political.

"I wanted it to become more of an inspirational thing, to inspire people to think about the neighborhood business district and to think differently about it," he said. "This is a great place, and we can do better."

Officials at the University of Maryland and Morgan State were eager to collaborate.

"The Cross Street Market never really kept up with the times," said Jeremy Kargon, an assistant professor in Morgan State who heads one of the studios taking on the project. "The idea is we want all our students to think more seriously about what urban life should be."

Burton's idea for a design competition evolved into a design charrette, in which the Main Street group would act as the client for the student architects. The Federal Hill representatives told the universities they were interested in finding ways to raise the profile of the market.

Though student projects are rarely built, Burton and the professors leading the classes hope the ideas will be considered in future planning.

They're hoping to revitalize a market they say has failed to keep up with the growth of a neighborhood that has grown from a working-class enclave to a destination for professionals.

The city last renovated Cross Street Market in October 2005, sprucing up the facade with new entrances, exterior billboards and additional lighting.