Prize-worthy design on a budget Winner: An East Baltimore building renovated to provide a temporary home for up to 20 people will receive an award for its architectural transformation.

Urban Landscape

October 22, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

The date of a lecture by achitect Allan Greenberg was incorrectly reported in yesterday's Urban Landscape column. It will be Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. at the Langsdale Auditorium, Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street.

The Sun regrets the errors.


That's the inscription above a doorway in Frederick Ozanam House, a transitional housing and homeless services center run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Baltimore.

But the saying also could be the architectural anthem for the building, which opened this year at Bond and Bank streets in East Baltimore.


Completed at a cost of $890,000, the project is part new construction and part preservation of a historic rowhouse in one of Baltimore's most impoverished areas. Next to the Beans and Bread soup kitchen run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, it contains expanded space for that meal program; rooms for counseling, job training and other social services; and temporary housing for up to 20 people.

As designed by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, the project shows that even with a tight budget a building can have a good design.

Outside, the composition of wall materials provides a bright note in an otherwise bleak urban landscape. Inside, apartments are spacious and inviting, with features that would be welcome in the most upscale city apartments, such as exposed brick walls and large windows with dramatic views of the downtown skyline.

Transitional housing is not the type of project where residents typically find this level of amenity. But a goal of the design team and the owner was to recognize the dignity of the residents.

"Everyone has his dignity," said Michael Murphy, partner in charge of the project for Murphy & Dittenhafer. "We had to select materials that weren't at the top of the cost chart. But you need to build walls and floors and windows anyway. Why not do it in a way that is positive and uplifting for people, rather than reminding them that they are down and out? That was our thinking, basically."

The three-story building is one of several projects selected to receive a design award in the 1998 awards program sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

"We admired the playful use of materials within a somber institution," the judges said. "There is a wit here about a residential scale within an institutional building."

The award, which will be bestowed Oct. 30, comes as city officials are looking for creative ways to help people out of poverty. The search is prompted by a move among downtown business leaders to find a new location for Our Daily Bread, a large soup kitchen at Franklin and Cathedral streets.

The Bond Street project is named after the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, an international organization with affiliates in 120 countries. In Baltimore, the society has provided services to the poor continuously since 1865.

At Ozanam House, the homeless services center is on the first floor, including space for employment referral, legal advice and tutoring. Four five-person apartments are upstairs. Residents are required to find and hold employment, stay drug- and alcohol-free, save money and do household chores. The anticipated length of stay is 18 to 24 months.

Architecturally, the project entailed preserving the front and partial side facades of the corner building and designing a three-level addition to the west. Given the limited financial resources, the architects used several colors and textures of masonry block in combination with a stock metal panel system to create a distinctive north wall that makes it possible for passers-by to tell what is new and what is old.

Floor plans and interior details are straightforward and utilitarian without being dull. Natural wood, tile floor patterns and comfortable furniture help make the environment livable and noninstitutional. The stairwell has inspirational posters on topics such as success, attitude and determination.

"Other places are so dark," said Neal Daniels, one of the residents. "This is light and airy."

Ozanam House is called transitional housing because it is for people who used to be homeless. Murphy said the term also is appropriate for this project because of the combination of new construction and preservation of old and its setting on the border of the Fells Point historic district.

"I'm happy that people have recognized it for the design," he said. "But I'd be happy even if it weren't recognized, because I think it's a good program."

Washington architect to speak at Cochran lecture

Architect Allan Greenberg of Washington will speak at the Alexander Cochran Lecture held by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation at 6: 15 p.m. Mondayat Langsdale Auditorium, Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street. General admission is $10. Information: 410-625-2585.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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