New Lafayette Courts honored Prize: The 374-unit development that will replace the demolished public housing project is one of five urban designs nationwide recognized by the American Institute of Architects.

Urban Landscape

December 05, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

FIVE MONTHS after construction began, the new Lafayette Courts development in downtown Baltimore has won national recognition as a model of sensitive civic architecture.

A jury of the American Institute of Architects selected the 374-unit development as one of five projects to receive 1997 honor awards for excellence in urban design.

The master planner for Lafayette Courts was CHK Architects & Planners of Silver Spring. The owner is the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. Their project was chosen to receive the same prestigious AIA award that the master plan for Camden Yards won in 1992 and that Baltimore's Inner Harbor East community won last year.

Equally important, even though the Clinton administration is rebuilding public housing around the country, Lafayette Courts is the first replacement project in the nation to receive an AIA honor award for urban design.

In announcing the prize, which will be presented at its convention next spring in New Orleans, the AIA praised Lafayette Courts as "a low-income community that is visually, socially and economically integrated" with the city.

"This development can serve as a model for other cities seeking to eliminate the stigma associated with publicly assisted housing," said the AIA jury, which was headed by Robert Beckley, dean of the architecture school at the University of Michigan.

"A great sensitivity to the residents and their circumstances is obvious in the design and planning. The design itself does a nice job of picking up the [architectural] vocabulary of the city. It restores the community and sets the stage for future development."

The 21.5-acre property is bounded roughly by Orleans, Fayette and Colvin streets, and Central Avenue. The development was launched as part of a federal strategy of replacing dangerous and decrepit projects with townhouse communities that blend in with the city.

Before the site was cleared in 1994, it contained six high-rise buildings and 17 low-rises, with 807 residences in all. Constructed in 1955, it was the largest public housing complex in the nation outside Chicago.

The Housing Authority's $106 million plan calls for replacing the high-rises with 228 rowhouses in the traditional Baltimore style and a mid-rise building with 110 residences for the elderly. Thirty-six units will be created inside three low-rise buildings that were not razed. The plan includes a community center, a day care center, a recreation center and a health center.

CHK is a nationally prominent firm with wide experience in residential design, mostly for middle-class and upscale communities. This was the first time it had developed plans for new public housing, although it has renovated older public housing. It subsequently designed the master plan for the community that will replace the demolished Lexington Terrace public housing project in West Baltimore.

John Torti is CHK's principal in charge of Lafayette Courts. Cheryl O'Neill is the principal project planner, and Robert Johnson is the project manager.

Their solution was to replace the bleak towers with a less-dense community reminiscent of what was on the site before, with townhouses, apartments and civic buildings that line conventional city streets connected to the rest of the city. Most of the residences will be traditional-style rowhouses with brick walls, steps in front and yards in back.

The plan incorporates "neo-traditional" concepts that have gained acceptance in the homebuilding industry in recent years. They include the use of narrow streets to keep traffic moving slowly, sidewalks to promote walking, on-street parking and distinctive public spaces that can become social centers for residents.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the award is "heartening."

"We've taken an extreme interest in the design of these communities," said Milan Osdinec, director of HUD's Office of Urban Revitalization. "We want to make sure that the mistakes made in the 1940s and '50s aren't made in the 1990s."

A Mexican and American restaurant called Jalapeno Joe's may open by next summer inside an annex to the old "Propeller Yard" building that HarborView Properties controls on Key Highway near Rash Field and the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

Tom Marudas, vice president of HarborView Properties, notified Federal Hill neighborhood representatives recently that a group is negotiating to open the restaurant in the area vacated by operators of the Spirit of Baltimore cruise ship. He said his company has no firm plans for the bulk of the Propeller Yard building, part of the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. shipyard that was rezoned in the 1980s for residential and commercial

development.

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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