We asked our Associates to choose one of their projects they enjoyed and tell us why. Their answers surprised us. They all agreed it was difficult to choose just one, but beyond that, their top picks were extremely varied—in terms of building type, scale, design phase and, of course, the personal reasons for their selection. Their choices include newly constructed luxury condos, historic spaces that have been repurposed into housing or office and commercial space and new affordable housing communities. They are also widely different in scale—from an entire urban neighborhood to a door detail—and the design phases include initial master planning, construction administration, and all the design phases in between. Read on to get a window into the minds of our highly creative team of Associates.
Keeping History Alive: NANCY LIEBRECHT, AIA, LEED, AP, NCARB
In adaptive reuse projects we are sometimes asked by the Maryland Historic Trust to salvage certain unique artifacts from the building for reuse. Other times they’re salvaged because we like them or because the owner likes them. Once these pieces are salvaged we need to figure out a way to use them. We’ve done this in many unique ways—from having the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) run a studio class using artifacts to create sculptures for the building, to reinstalling an historic radiator into an apartment as a nod to history (even if it isn’t functional), and even using historic doors as wall panels.
Of course, with adaptive reuse projects, sometimes “the best laid plans” don’t quite work out. Recently we had some wonderful metal clad freight elevator doors that were intended to go in apartments with sliding barn door hardware. It would have been great. But the doors weighed 500-plus pounds each and we could not get them up the new elevators or support them from our frame construction. So we ended up using a couple of the doors in the fitness center, which was very successful. But the others had no purpose until we came up with the idea of making them into communal tables. It was more expensive than buying new tables, but fortunately our clients are as passionate as we are about keeping the history of buildings alive. So hopefully when someone sees a tree sculpture made from elevator cables or a communal table made of freight elevator doors, they are moved.
Creating a Master Plan: KEITH SULLIVAN, AIA, AICP, LEED AP
My work on the Key’s Pointe Master Plan, which promises to transform the former O’Donnell Heights neighborhood in the eastern part of Baltimore, really allowed me to leverage my urban design and master planning expertise, which supports smart growth policies and principles of New Urbanism.
Notably, the plan resulted in a compact, walkable, mixed-use/mixed-income neighborhood with a connected network of streets and a variety of open space types dispersed throughout the community with multiple transportation choices: by foot, bus, car, and bike (the plan created bike lanes in concert with the city’s bicycle master plan). Key’s Pointe re-establishes the urban fabric of the area with streets and a block structure that seamlessly integrates with the surrounding community. It also strengthens connections to adjacent schools. Overall, I think the 62-acre project is a standout example of mixing incomes and integrating new development/infill with the surrounding community—and it avoids being an isolated or insular-focused project.Also crucial to the success of Key’s Pointe was our careful attention to providing a wide variety of housing options—the 925 dwelling units include townhouses, stacked towns, stacked flats, and apartments (Phase 1A is complete and construction has begun on phase 1B). These homes include affordable rental mixed with market-rate for-sale, and senior housing. Likewise, there is a lot of variety in the community’s 8.5 acres of open space—allowing for greens, squares, plazas, and parks—which provides opportunities for everything from ball playing to playgrounds to community gardens.
Creating the master plan for Key’s Pointe involved a significant amount of collaboration. We hosted a community outreach workshop to program the community’s central six-acre park, for instance, and continue to work closely throughout the planning process in a unique public-private partnership with private developers and the Baltimore City Housing Authority and Baltimore City Recreation & Parks departments.
I found it tremendously fulfilling to know that our project changed the lives of those previously living in a very blighted area of aging, high-rise public housing towers (the Murphy Homes). In their place, thanks to HOPE VI federal funding, we created a mixed-income neighborhood of townhomes and rental units. Our design for the entire community was guided by the best principles of New Urbanism: Heritage Crossing includes a beautifully landscaped village green (complete with a restored Victorian-era gazebo that serves as a centerpiece for the community), shortened streets, and large backyards. To help nurture a sense of community, we designed many of the homes with tall windows and large front porches—a far cry from the crime-plagued high-rises that used to dominate the site. And our design also afforded residents much more living space—about eight living units per acre, compared to 50 units per acre in the former Murphy Homes.
Of course, this project was also great fun because of the people I was lucky enough to work with: Dave Miller and Danny Barnhill of Harkins builders, Ron Wilson from Enterprise with his infectious laugh, Anthony Rodgers from A&R, and Mary Holmes—former tenant council president of Murphy Homes.
A Little Bit of Everything: AARON ZEPHIR, AIA
My favorite project with Marks Thomas was Park Plaza in midtown Baltimore—three connected buildings that make up a mixed use complex (ground floor restaurants and commercial; upper-level office space) We undertook this project after Park Place experienced extensive fire damage in December, 2010. It was a project with a little bit of everything: renovation and restoration of a great historic structure (the former mansion at the corner of Charles and Madison streets dates back to 1842); new construction with sleek modern additions; and a prominent site with the unique opportunity of exploiting connections to historic Mount Vernon Square in Baltimore.
With projects involving historic buildings, I’ve found that the most effective way to design is with contrasts in mind. With the Park Plaza project, that meant creating a new rooftop addition clad entirely in glass (and set back from the front and back of the building to give a clear visual break) as a contrast to the old masonry of the rest of the building. We topped that off with a thin plane of a roofline—which seems to hover over the building. The roofline is mimicked in a new lobby that also features an all-glass entrance and thin ceiling plane.
With Park Plaza, we got to work with a client willing to make the most of various opportunities, and a contractor with the flexibility and collaborative problem-solving sense needed in these types of idiosyncratic old buildings.
Excellence On An Enormous Scale: JENNIFER LYON, AIA, NCARB
I’m lucky to have several favorite projects in mind when contemplating the answer to this question, but one that really stands out for several unique reasons is the Ritz Carlton Residences. It was really a one-of-a-kind project for Marks, Thomas, and I’m so proud that we have this project in our portfolio.
For me, this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime project to be a part of: The scale of the site, the enormity of the building, its overall complexity, its details and all of the intricacies to making everything come together was something very unique for me to observe and take part in, especially at the start of my architecture career. This project allowed me to be exposed to a complicated design and construction process, a large project team (at the busiest time we had about 20 people working on the drawings in our office), and the uniqueness that a global name such as The Ritz Carlton brought to the project.
The timeframe of this project for our office easily exceeded a five-year span. With a total of 192 luxury condos, which included between 60 to 80 varying types and versions due to varying conditions, some of my primary roles included knowing everything about each one. Keeping track was like mastering a personalized deck of cards for the project.
The site had to be completely shored with deep steel sheet piles and kickers around the perimeter. The entire water side bulkhead wall had to be constructed and is now part of the pedestrian footpath around the Inner Harbor, linking downtown to Locust Point. Once all of the sheeting and shoring was in place, the entire site had to be dug out and de-watered. Because over half of the site was on the water, barges were used to crane steel, masonry, and other building materials onto the site, and even erect the sides of the building closest to the water.
Six buildings link together to create the fanned out footprint, including a full parking level below grade (which, is technically below the level of the surrounding water). The parking garage walls are separated by the perimeter bulkhead walls as a backup system in case of a flood. The exterior façade of the building is a mixture of brick, and precast formwork including hundreds of custom shapes.
The interior of the building is a pristine mixture of marble, plaster, and plush textiles. The amenities for the residents are as luxurious as they can get. The units themselves are more spacious than some single family houses. And, the trees planted along Key Highway were cloned seedlings so that when mature, they would all be the same size and shape (and for the most part, it worked!).
Looking back at the project now, eight years after completion of construction, I am still in awe of what it took for our entire team to bring the project to fruition.
With all the variation in the response to, “What did you enjoy in one of your Marks, Thomas architectural projects?” I have come to realize that our Associates are successful in their work because their interests are broad and that breadth is what architecture is all about. We enjoy learning about the intricacies of construction and the nuances of our clients’ needs, and we are committed to continuous learning as we seek to achieve successful solutions in our day-to-day work. Learn more about the wide variety of unique projects we have worked on at Marks Thomas Architects by exploring our portfolio.