Rising out of the ashes

The Baltimore Sun

In the 1800s, the area now known as Clipper Mill was one of Baltimore's busiest work sites, an iron foundry and machine shop that produced steam engines, locomotive parts, even cannon balls. In the 1860s, its furnaces melted pig iron to cast 36 columns for the U.S. Capitol.

Today, 12 years after an eight-alarm fire nearly destroyed a key building there, the Woodberry property has been reborn as one of Baltimore's trendiest communities, with condominiums, apartments, offices, artisans' studios and a "green" restaurant.

Clipper Mill is also this year's darling of the design awards juries, winning top prizes in contests sponsored by the Baltimore and Maryland chapters of the American Institute of Architects and Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group.

The latest award for a Clipper Mill project will be presented this week for the Assembly Building, a combination of 36 apartments and 10,000 square feet of office space inserted within the shell of the building that was heavily damaged by the 1995 fire.

It's one of 16 projects that will be honored in the 2007 Design for Excellence Program sponsored by AIA Baltimore. The awards will be presented starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday during a ceremony at the Stewart's Building, part of the chapter's Architecture Week festivities.

In selecting the Assembly Building for an honor, jurors praised the lead architect, Cho, Benn Holback + Associates, for retaining industrial elements of the 1890 building while introducing new uses.

For example, the architects kept the building's fire-charred roof trusses in place and uncovered, so light can filter into courtyards below, and turned the stone and brick foundation of a building that's no longer there into a grotto-like setting for a community pool. Alex Castro of Castro/Arts designed the pool itself. Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse is the community's developer and lead contractor.

"This is a great example of the adaptive reuse of a building that was substantially compromised," said the jurors, who gave the Assembly Building the Michael F. Trostel Award for Excellence in a Historic Preservation Project.

"The architects saw the ruins' value and created an elegant composition. The interesting and compelling use of the existing roof trusses ... is a remnant and reminder of the structure's industrial past."

David Benn, principal in charge of the project, said it was complicated, with extensive contributions from craftspeople such as metal fabricator John Gutierrez and glassblower Anthony Corradetti.

"I use the metaphor of a ship in a bottle," Benn said. "We had the walls and roof trusses and basement, and we had to insert everything inside the existing shell. It was all hand-built."

Other local Design Award winners are: The Crescent at Fells Point, by Design Collective, and a painting studio and guesthouse in Monkton, by Beck, Powell & Parsons.

Award winners outside Maryland are: the Art Academy of Cincinnati, by Design Collective; The Institute for Scientific Research in Fairmont, W.Va., by Grant Architects; and the School of Nursing at Duke University and a master plan for Vedanta University in India, both by Ayers Saint Gross.

Honorable mention awards go to the Catholic Relief Services headquarters in the Stewart's Building and the Charles Commons housing in Charles Village, both by Design Collective; the Hunt Valley headquarters of Century Engineering, by Hord Coplan Macht; and a Child Care Center at Towson University, by Cho Benn Holback.

Also, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center in Mount Vernon, Va., and the Killens Pond State Park Nature Center in Felton, Del., both by GWWO; Our Daily Bread Employment Center, by CSD Architects; and a residence and studio in Korea by Kroiz Architecture.

This year's recipient of the chapter's Good Design = Good Business Award is the renovation of the Chemo-Infusion Suite at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, by Marshall Craft Associates.

A Grand Award winner will be announced during the awards program. Ticket information is available on the Web site, aia balt.com, or by calling 410- 625-2585.


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