Figures become healing symbols


Transitions: At Marian House, caryatids will tell the story of women who seek refuge there.

August 05, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

IN ANCIENT GREECE, a caryatid was a draped female figure that held up the entablature of a building. One of the best surviving examples of a building with caryatids is the Erechtheum, a temple on the Acropolis in Athens.

This month, contractors will begin construction of a building in Baltimore that will use caryatids to symbolize what is happening inside.

Marian House is an independent, nonprofit organization in Better Waverly that provides transitional housing and other services for women who have suffered from spousal abuse, drug addiction and homelessness.

Founded in 1982 and headed by Sister Augusta Reilly, Marian House occupies the former St. Bernard's Convent in the 900 block of Gorsuch Ave. and has space for up to 16 people. Besides temporary living quarters for women and their children, it offers instruction in daily living skills, counseling and employment training.

With a 75 percent success rate, the program has received so many referrals that four out of five women who apply for admission have had to be turned away for lack of space.

To accommodate more people, Marian House is building a three-story addition. Designed by KCM Architects of Baltimore, it will contain 14 single-room units and four three-bedroom apartments to house 26 additional residents, as well as a multipurpose room, kitchen, lounges, offices, and dining and meeting spaces.

The brick-clad addition has been designed to fit in with the surrounding area in Better Waverly. In its center will be a landscaped courtyard with a fountain.

As part of the project, architect Brian Kelly of KCM suggested that a series of female figures be incorporated into the building at ground level, in the same way caryatids were used in ancient Greece.

In his design, two figures supporting flowerpots on their heads will be on each side of the gate at the entrance to the central garden, Another will be sitting by the fountain in the garden, and four more will be actual caryatids, with their outstretched arms supporting a section of the building.

Kelly said he suggested the figures as "an allegory of the transformation that women go through" at Marian House.

As he explains it, the figures at the entrance gate "are weighed down with heavy burdens" symbolized by the flowerpots.

The courtyard is an oasis, where the second figure has "laid down her burden" and is "resting and refreshing her spirit."

In the final stage of the transformation, Kelly explains, the woman has "gained strength and found her place in society," as shown by the way she holds the building up.

The cost of the project is $2.78 million, including $2.65 million for rehabilitation of the existing convent and new construction and $130,000 for equipment and furnishings.

Marian House has raised $2.65 million from public and private sources, including $1.1 million from Maryland's Department of Housing and Community Development. Staffers are working to raise the final $130,000 needed to complete the project.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is the project developer, and Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. is the general contractor. Work is scheduled for completion by next summer.

Kelly said he is pleased that Marian House followed his suggestion to use the caryatids. He said the design team plans to hire a sculptor to create the figures, possibly in terra cotta.

Kathleen Lyon, the fund-raiser for Marian House, said the caryatids will provide a memorable symbol of the experience women have there. "It's a beautiful expression of the process," she said. "We're very excited about it."

The Marian House community is very proud of the design, which will embody "both the spirit and the pattern of our program for homeless women," Sister Augusta said.

"It's been a real community effort. Brian's idea of an allegory appealed to a lot of people."

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