Plan for community wins national award

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Design: The mixed-use community that is to replace the Flag House Courts complex is one of four projects to be honored by the American Institute of Architects.

Urban Landscape

January 11, 2001|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE COMMUNITY that is planned to replace the Flag House Courts public housing complex in East Baltimore has won national recognition as an example of successful urban design.

An American Institute of Architects jury chose the 338-unit development as one of four projects that will receive Honor Awards for outstanding regional and urban design during the AIA's annual convention in Denver in May.

City officials have set Feb. 10 as the date when contractors will demolish the vacant public housing complex to make way for the replacement community, which will contain housing, commercial space and a community center.

In announcing the honor, the AIA praised the Flag House Courts replacement as "an excellent example of an affordable housing project that creates a sensitive relationship to the surrounding context while clearly expressing the community's needs."

The award-winning projects "all reflect what livable communities can really be," said Washington architect Amy Weinstein, head of the jury that reviewed 58 submissions. "They each do a masterful job of addressing infrastructure, growth issues and street life, and integrating the adjoining neighborhoods and landscape."

The master planner of the Flag House Courts replacement project, which has not been named, is Torti Gallas and Partners/CHK Inc. of Silver Spring, with John Torti as principal in charge and Marc Wouters as project manager. The owner is the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. The development team includes the Integral Group and H. J. Russell Contractors of Atlanta and Mid-City Urban of Silver Spring.

The development was launched as part of a federal strategy of replacing dangerous and decrepit public housing projects with townhouse communities that blend with a city landscape.

The site, within easy walking distance of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and downtown commercial district, is bounded roughly by East Pratt, East Baltimore and Albemarle streets and Central Avenue. Construction is expected to start during the first half of next year and to be completed in phases during the next several years.

Funded in 1998 with a $21.5 million federal HOPE VI grant and other public and private funds, the $47.5 million Flag House Courts replacement project was developed through a series of design charrettes, or brainstorming sessions, that included public housing residents, community leaders, private developers and city officials. The participants chose to demolish the public housing towers and replace them with a diverse, mixed-income and mixed-use community consistent with Baltimore's traditional neighborhoods.

In its design, Torti Gallas extended the street grid system of the adjacent area through the development site to reconnect residents of the new housing to other parts of the city. To extend the project beyond the existing public housing site, the city arranged to acquire vacant land and buildings along the eastern portion of Lombard Street and redevelop them with shops on the ground floors and residences above.

Open spaces were designed to give visibility to many of the historic buildings. The architects recommended that one of the most handsome buildings in the area be turned into a community center housing classrooms, support services and recreational facilities for the local Boys and Girls Club.

The 338 residences consist of rowhouses and apartment buildings lining the streets. Public housing residents were invited to return and occupy approximately 40 percent of the dwellings, and the remainder will be sold to people at a wide range of income levels.

The residences, whether subsidized or not, were designed to have similar plans and facades, so it won't be possible to identify any occupant's income level at a glance. Yet faM-gade details vary from block to block to avoid the appearance of mass-produced housing.

Torti Gallas won a 1997 Honor Award for its design of another HOPE VI project in Baltimore, Pleasant View Gardens, on the site of the former Lafayette Courts public housing at Fayette Street and Central Avenue.

Architect John Torti said he was pleased the plan preserves and strengthens the old Corned Beef Row section of Lombard Street. "I think part of the strength of the Flag House neighborhood plan is that we were able to restore the old street fabric more religiously [than at Pleasant View Gardens] and connect it to Little Italy and Jonestown, and to help reinforce Lombard Street as the neighborhood's retail street," he said.

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