Storage sheds for construction equipment and repair garages for maintenance vehicles are generally seen as low-budget, low-brow buildings that offer little opportunity for innovative design.
But the architects of one such grouping set out to prove that commissions for even the most utilitarian of structures can lead to distinguished architecture.
In the process, they showed that good design can be found in the most unlikely places, if the architect and clients want to make it happen.
The East Side Maintenance Yard, by Murphy & Dittenhafer, is one of 22 projects selected from 90 entries this year to receive honors in the annual design awards program sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
"Incredible attention has been applied to utilitarian buildings on a previously industrial site," the judges commented. "There is an expressive quality and rigor to the internal workings."
Built by Baltimore's public works department, the $7 million maintenance yard opened in 2000 on a 17-acre parcel off East Monument Street near Kane Street. It accommodates several hundred employees.
Architect Michael Murphy said he and colleague Frank Dittenhafer wanted to elevate the employees' work experience by creating a well-designed and well-constructed environment, while reflecting the area's industri-al nature.
"These are the people who go out and fix the potholes and dig up the streets and take care of the public utilities," Murphy said. "One of the purposes of these buildings, as we saw it, is to show them respect by giving them a setting that reflects their importance."
There's an assembly room in each of the two largest buildings where the employees gather each day before going out to do their jobs, Murphy said.
"We called it the Hill Street Blues room, because that's where managers give their instructions. That's something that not everybody might have thought about. But I think the role of architecture in this case was to take the ordinary life of these employees and give it some dignity by creating an appropriate setting. It's no different than designing a corporate headquarters."
The awards will be presented Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Belvedere Hotel, 1 E. Chase St. The presentation will be followed by a Beaux Arts Ball open to the public. Tickets are $45 per person or $40 each for groups of six or more. Call 410-625-2585 for more information.
Other design award winners are: the offices for the Blaustein Philanthropic Group in Baltimore, by Riley & Rohrer; a campus plan for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, by Ayers Saint Gross; a Fenwick Island beach house by Alexander Design Studio; and plans for the Lyric Opera House's backstage expansion, by Richter Cornbrooks Gribble.
Also, the Maryland State Police Forensic Science Laboratory planned for Pikesville, by Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet; a new entry and galleries for the Maryland Historical Society, by Ziger/Snead; and the Sailwinds Visitors Center in Cambridge, by Marks, Thomas and Associates.
Honorable mention awards will go to: Armstrong World Industries headquarters in Lancaster, Pa., by Gensler; the Brown Center, an academic building for the Maryland Institute College of Art, by Ziger/Snead and Charles Brickbauer; a campus plan for Emory University, by Ayers Saint Gross; the Center for Aquatic Life and Conservation, designed for the National Aquarium in Baltimore by Hord Coplan Macht; and corporate offices for Xavier Health Care Systems, by R.M. Sovich, the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center on Howard Street, by Cho Benn Holback + Associates, and the Harbor Tunnel Maintenance Building, by Marks, Thomas & Associates.
Also, an Inner Harbor East cinema complex for Madstone Films, by Peter Fillat Archi- tects/Studio Wanda, Marikle Chapel at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, by Murphy & Dittenhafer, a gymnasium for Park School, by Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet; a proposed memorial to the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, by Ziger/Snead; a private residence for Jason Shih by Swanston & Associates; and a municipal building for West Manchester, Pa., by Murphy & Dittenhafer.
In the "associates" category, for designers who aren't yet licensed architects, Charles Patterson of SMG Architects will receive an award for a residence in Monkton. A grand award will be announced at the event.
Talks and forums
New housing in downtown Baltimore will be the subject of a free noontime forum on Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Fayette streets. Bob Aydukovic, housing initiative director for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, will lead the discussion.