The four projects selected for this year’s AIA Baltimore/Chesapeake Home + Living residential design awards are studies in beauty, clarity and restraint.
By Catherine Mallette
On a hot summer day, in the cool basement of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architect’s headquarters, three judges met to debate the relative merits of the 20 entries in this year’s AIA/Chesapeake Home + Living residential design competition.
The rules of eligibility were fairly simple. Projects were either in Maryland or had been done by Maryland architects. They could be reconstructions and/or renovations or new buildings. They needed to have been completed by January 2007.
The judging was a more complex process with discussions and dissections that eventually led to firm conclusions. The three judges — Ruth Connell, AIA, Morgan State University; John Srygley, AIA, JRS Architects; and Scott Walters, AIA, Hord Coplan Macht — named four winners, projects that ranged from historical restorations to modern urban constructions. HERE’S A PEEK AT THEM
A HORSE STABLE BECOMES AN ELEGANT HOME
Rohrer Studio, Baltimore
THE GOAL: Use an existing, turn-of-the-century horse stable in Baltimore to create a three-bedroom residence while preserving the character and elements of the original building as much as possible. Designed for three adults, each bedroom needed a private bath. Downstairs, the plan was to create common living and dining space.
THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT: This relatively small home has 2,200 square feet of living space. New HVAC systems were needed, as well as new electrical and lighting systems. The perimeter walls needed insulation as did the roof. The architects carefully restored the exterior concrete walls, slate roof, door woods and trims to maintain the integrity of the building. Doors and door hardware, stairs, trim and details were preserved. For example, the former barn doors were refurbished and now work as shutters inside the home. Floors on the first floor are reclaimed pine salvaged from tobacco barns. Bottoms of rafters remained exposed. A terrace was added to extend living space into the outdoors and connect the building with its pastoral site.
THE ARCHITECT’S VIEWPOINT: James P. Suttner, AIA, of Rohrer Studio, noted that “the building had such great bones. The idea was to do a very simple renovation to make it livable and to be respectful in what changes were made to it.” The building had such character to begin with that the project “was like an exercise in restraint….you have to be so careful not to do too much with it and ruin it.” For Suttner, “it was really wonderful to be able to capture the soul of that building while converting it to a different use.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “This is a very restrained and thoughtful restoration,” said Walters. The judges admired how the bedrooms each had two exposures, which not only created cross ventilation but also connected the rooms in a thoughtful way to the landscape. Understated and careful, the judges called the project, praising the architect for being willing to expose the old elements of the stable.
PRESERVING HISTORY ON VIRGINIA’S EASTERN SHORE
Muse Architects, Bethesda, Md.
THE GOAL: Complete restoration and renovation and additions to a historic plantation home in Machipongo, Va. The original house was built in 1784, then expanded in 1829 by Abel Parker Upshur, who later served as secretary of state in President John Tyler’s administration. The idea here was to restore the original house but also to remove recent additions that were out of character.
THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT: In addition to restoring the main house, the architects were asked to restore all outbuildings, including a small boathouse on the creek. They needed to construct a new garage and restore of all driveways, walkways and gardens. The family that currently owns the home also wanted to create some additional living space that overlooked the waterfront.
THE ARCHITECT’S VIEWPOINT: “We wanted to restore the great features of this house,” said Stephen Muse, FAIA. On the entry side of the house were two porches; the waterfront side had two pads, so the architects made the assumption that they also would have had the same twin porches, and they put them back on. “The family also wanted a kitchen that had a nice breakfast area,” said Muse. “We took the scale of the two porches and repeated them as a breakfast bay and enclosed that to make it look like it had been a porch at one time.” For Muse, “the major thing was to make it look like we didn’t try too hard…it’s about knowing when to take a step back and be light-handed.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: The judges agreed that this stately house preserves an important part of Virginia’s Eastern Shore history and character. They liked the renovated kitchen space with its open ceiling and exposed trusses, and noted that it was clearly distinct from the original building. They also said that the two porches added to the waterfront view smartly replicated existing elements on the front of the house. The new kitchen addition “creates a space unlike any other space in the existing dwelling and is full of natural light and important views to the waterfront,” said Connell.
MODERN, URBAN AND RIGHT FOR THE SITE
Robert M. Gurney, FAIA Washington., D.C.
THE GOAL: The client was a young entrepreneur who wanted an architecturally interesting house with a minimal footprint that would be appropriately scaled to this urban lot just blocks from downtown Bethesda. The existing structure was removed from the lot, and this new cube home was designed to give the client a modern look and a big backyard.
THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT: The cube design includes 2,200 square feet of living space. A rooftop with views of treetops and the Bethesda skyline is an additional 1,100 square feet. The house has four bedrooms, three full baths, three half baths, a first floor office, a basement family room, an open kitchen and dining and living areas on the first floor. Windows of various sizes and shapes optimize views, while inside, walnut flooring gives a base for white walls and light-filled spaces, contrasting with the charcoal gray exterior of the home.
THE ARCHITECT’S VIEWPOINT: “Putting a small house on this large lot is the antithesis of what everyone else is doing,” said Robert M. Gurney, FAIA. “It was so different from the rest of the neighborhood. But you do what you think is right and what you think is good.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: Judges like that the cube was simple and compact but that the home had great internal spatial relationships. The corner windows, one said, were a study in how to “break the box.” They also liked the play between the coolness of the exterior’s groundface block and the warmth of the dark rich wood. “This minimalist house maximizes the use of interior spaces and takes advantage of the site always with great efficiency and simplicity,” said Srygley.
A SEDUCTIVELY SIMPLE POOL HOUSE
Robert M. Gurney, FAIA
THE GOAL: Located in the yard of a contemporary home in Bethesda that backs up to woods, this small structure was designed to provide a threshold between the structured landscape and the woodlands. The pavilion was intended for year-round use.
THE SCOPE OF THE PROJECT: While the pool house was intended to provide shelter from nature, it also was designed to allow the homeowners to enjoy the garden, pool and natural surroundings. Steel-framed glass doors and frameless glass windows create views to the environment; the doors pivot open in warmer months, while heated floors and a large fireplace make the space cozy in winter. The pavilion boats a stainless-steel kitchen, bluestone flooring, stone and mahogany walls and a Douglas-fir ceiling. The structure also includes a powder room, mechanical room and outdoor shower.
THE ARCHITECT’S VIEWPOINT: “I like the fact that in the space you have two views,” said Robert M. Gurney. “ One is toward the pool and the house, the more manicured part of the property, and in the other part you almost feel you’re in the woods. I like that you can have both of those feelings at the same time.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID: “It takes great expertise to achieve this seductive simplicity,” said Connell, noting that the triangular roof appears to float on top of the glass. Judges uniformly praised the geometry of the project. “The pool mirrors the transparency of the glass, while the stone path mirrors the stone on the house,” said Srygley. “You get this really nice balance.” Walters pointed out that the solid volume to the right of the structure is echoed by the fireplace to the left, which forces the view through the building. Connell also liked the use of a limited palette but with materials that really do contrast with each other. As Srygley said and others agreed, the architect here had “amazing control of this little building.”