'Taller than a giant,' treehouse wins award

October 28, 1990|By Edward Gunts

When Washington-area developer Charles E. Smith wanted to give his grandchildren a gift two years ago, he didn't just go to a store and buy one. He wanted to give them a present they would really appreciate and thought a treehouse would be the perfect solution.

To get the children even more involved in the project, he hired architects J. Lee Glenn, Roxanne Williams and Thomas Seiler of Glenn Williams Architects in Baltimore and let the children serve as clients for their designer treehouse.

As part of the design process, the architects interviewed the children, Stacy and Michael Liss, then age 5 and 3, and wrote a poem that served as the "program" for the building.

"The interesting part is that he wanted them to be the clients," Mr. Glenn said of the grandfather. "He thought it would be nice if they played a real role -- that, instead of just buying them something, they would have a real appreciation for his present if they were part of it and had a real say in what it was all about. He wanted them to interact with the world. . . to get them used to having business relationships."

"We actually had about three meetings with them and made a scale model of the treehouse. When you sit down with 3- and 5-year-olds, you get an entirely different perspective. They said: 'It has to be taller than a giant. It has to be a train, I've got to be able to sleep in it.' "

The result is one of 13 works of architecture singled out for honors this year as part of the annual design awards program of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The projects were selected from a record 104 entries submitted this fall. The awards were presented last week during a dinner at the Fidelity and Guaranty Life Insurance Co. building in Mount Washington.

The treehouse, which won an award in the built architecture category, actually turned out to be a "next-to-tree-house," because the architects decided it would be safer to build it on the ground rather than way up in a tree on the clients' Bethesda property.

"This is a beautifully detailed piece of architecture, an elegant pavilion in the woods . . . It goes a long way beyond play sculpture," said the awards program jurors.

Other winners included:

* 25-Year Award: The Silber residence off Falls Road in Baltimore City, by Mark Beck of Beck, Powell and Parsons.

* Built architecture awards: The Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University, by Ayers Saint Gross Inc.; the interior of a penthouse at Scarlett Place on Pratt

Street, designed by Ziger, Hoopes & Snead; a sculpture studio for Japanese artists at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, by RTKL Associates Inc.

* Built architecture honorable mentions: Alexander Corporate Offices in Harrisburg, Pa., by Columbia Design Collective; Offices of Cho Wilks and Benn Inc. at Maryland Art Place, by Cho, Wilks and Benn; the Redmond C. S. Finney Athletic Center at Gilman School, by Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet.

* Unbuilt awards: Baltimore Financial Centre, planned for the southeast corner of Redwood and Charles streets, by Ayers Saint Gross Inc.; Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically


proposed for Franklin Street and Park Avenue, by Ayers Saint Gross Inc.; Clarence H. "Du" Burns Arena in Canton, by Hord Coplan Macht Inc.

* Planning and urban design awards: Neighborhood Design Guidelines for Baltimore County, by Cho, Wilks and Benn Inc., North New Market, a master plan for a new neighborhood in New Market, by Glenn Williams Architects.

The winners were selected by a jury composed of Roger Clark, professor of architecture at North Carolina State University; John Hartray, a principal of Nagle, Hartray & Associates Ltd. in Chicago; and John Bower of Bower Lewis Thrower/Architects of Philadelphia.

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