Casey building wins award


Architecture Column

October 06, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

The old trolley substation in East Baltimore used to be home of the "trouble truck," an emergency vehicle that dashed out when streetcars derailed and got them back on track.

Though streetcars faded from the scene decades ago, the brick building at 25 N. Caroline St. has found a new calling as a place that helps people get back on track.

It's part of the new Baltimore home of Casey Family Services, a social services center where single mothers can obtain job training and counseling while their children are in child care. The space formerly occupied by the trouble truck is now a conference room for the Casey staff.

The $2.1 million conversion is the only project to receive top honors this fall in design competitions sponsored by two groups, the Baltimore chapter and the Maryland Society chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

In the Baltimore program, the Casey building won the Michael F. Trostel Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation. In the statewide program, it was one of three honor award recipients.

"This adaptive reuse brings light and brightness to a gritty industrial area," said the jury in the Baltimore program. "It is not afraid of putting welcoming windows on the street, allows the existing building to breathe, and takes good advantage of the loft space."

"Nicely done at an intimate scale and rather approachable," the state judges said. "The details are nicely handled."

Casey Family Services is an arm of the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is based in Baltimore. The Caroline Street building is the third that Casey has recycled in the city, along with one on Charles Street and one on St. Paul St. Cho Benn Holback + Associates was the architect for all three.

Located in Baltimore's Washington Hill historic district, the 1925 trolley substation is one of several buildings constructed around the city to provide electricity for Baltimore's streetcars. It later became an artist's residence and studio but was abandoned when Casey acquired it.

Casey was renting space on Broadway and looking for a new location when its representatives discovered the former trolley substation "sitting in a field of weeds," said Diane Cho, principal in charge of the project for Cho Benn Holback.

"They were attracted to this building because of its location and its history" as a trolley substation, Cho said. "They like saving old buildings."

Because the shell of the trolley building alone didn't have enough room to house everything Casey wanted in its center, the architects designed an addition on adjacent land, containing offices for social workers and room for child care.

The space between the new building and the old became a two-story lobby atrium and the central organizing piece of the project. A full-height glass window wall and skylights separate the existing building from the addition, bringing natural light into the interior and emphasizing the brick shell of the trolley substation.

The interior of the substation has been left intact and accommodates a variety of activities, from training sessions to community gatherings. Staff offices, housed on the second floor, all have views toward the atrium or the outdoors. A whimsical wrought-iron fence, created by the sculptor who lived in the substation before Casey acquired it, was reused as an enclosure for the children's outdoor play area.

The fence was "a tremendous icon for the neighborhood," said project manager and project architect Brian Oster. "There was so much joy in it that we thought it would be good to reuse."

Other design team members were Joy Klineberg, Eric Robinson and Eric Lewis. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse was the contractor.

The AIA Baltimore awards will be presented Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brown Center, 1300 Mount Royal Ave. A grand award winner will be announced the night of the event. Other winners are: Alexander Design Studio, for an unbuilt design of a library for Middle School No. 255 in Baltimore City and a residence on the St. Martin's River west of Ocean City and Riley & Rohrer for Oliver Center, a senior center opposite the old American Brewery in East Baltimore.

Honorable mention awards will go to Cho Benn Holback for the Annie E. Casey Foundation headquarters expansion at 503 N. Charles St.; Ayers Saint Gross for the Integrated Natural Sciences Center at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; Hord Coplan Macht Inc. for the Krieger Building expansion at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues, and Cannon Design for the Tate Cancer Center at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie.

The Associates Award is going to Craig Carbrey, Wayne Norbeck, John Shorb and Glenn Shrum of Ziger/Snead LLP for their design of the M&T Bank Model Home, a temporary pavilion and gallery built this summer for Baltimore's Artscape festival.

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