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Viewpoints

The Future of the Urban Environment

February 23rd, 2017 by

A little over a year ago, I was asked to speak at the Connected Car Expo in L.A. to give my take on what the urban environment of 2050 might look like. Carmakers and affiliated professionals were looking ahead to try to tailor their efforts toward future trends in the urban environment and architecture. It was a bit of a daunting challenge, but I agreed and dove into researching projected demographics, as well as cultural and architectural trends.

I decided to begin my “talk” with some background on environmental sustainability, focusing on two critical elements to the future of our planet: water consumption and CO2 production. I started with a joke: “Why do scuba divers always fall backward out of the boat? Because if they fell forward, they’d still be in the boat.” Seems obvious.

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2016 in Review: The Year’s Best Blog Posts

January 9th, 2017 by

2016 was an exciting time of growth here at Marks, Thomas Architects, building new communities in our hometown of Baltimore while opening a new office in Richmond, VA. And we are even more excited about the coming year, as we achieve a huge milestone for our company — celebrating our 50th anniversary!

Over the past half-century, we have cultivated relationships with some of the area’s most reputable builders, developers, and community leaders through collaboration and leadership. We are proud of the positive impact we’ve had on the lives of those that live and work in the buildings we’ve designed.

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Generations Unite: A New Housing Model

November 22nd, 2016 by

In this time of perceived competition for scarce resources, intergenerational housing may be the solution to cross the generation gap while satisfying shared needs. More retirees are resisting the “Shady Acres” model of senior housing where age restrictions rule and separation from children and young adults is established through a gated community. Intergenerational housing models are becoming more popular and varied, from single-family homes in close-knit communities to roommates sharing a multi-room building.

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Decoration or Distraction: Are Classroom Walls Too Busy?

September 1st, 2016 by

Back-to-school time is here for our local families, teachers, and school facilities! Once classroom spaces are stocked with desks and books for the coming year, teachers in those classrooms set to work to make the spaces lively and unique. As designers and observers of several varying types of classrooms and learning spaces, we have seen that teachers not only gear their decorations to the interests of their students—based on their age, grade, and subject matter—but also to their own personal interests: including quotes from famous cultural and historical figures, favorite sports team and college memorabilia, and popular movie posters, for example.

This NBC News article explores some interesting points on this subject, and asks the question: Do too many decorations in classrooms overstimulate students and distract them from learning? Read more

Marks, Thomas Architects: Some of Our Most Memorable Projects

August 16th, 2016 by

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.

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Achieving Work-Life Balance in the Architectural Profession

June 9th, 2016 by

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, more than one third of American workers experience chronic work stress. Architects aren’t firefighters or policeman but architecture professionals rank in the top 10 “burnout” careers in America. Architects often face the pressure of turning out projects under very tight deadlines, while juggling building code, design problems and safety issues. They not only have the pressure to perform, but may feel they sacrifice their personal and family lives for their jobs.

Is achieving better work-life balance the answer? And if so, how can better balance be achieved by the hard-working architect? According to Cristobal Young, sociology professor at Stanford University, it’s not about adding free time to your day.. It is more an issue of coordinating the free time you do have with that of friends and family. Here at Marks, Thomas Architects we work to promote better balance by offering ways in which to be healthy, connected, and creative.

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The Green House Model: Transforming Long Term Care

May 12th, 2016 by

After a fainting episode, 80-something Lawson knew his family was right when they insisted he no longer live alone. But the place he moved to in Baltimore, though technically a nursing home, defies everything we’ve come to associate with the typical nursing home model. Like the other 10 to 12 residents in his “house,” Lawson enjoys a private room and private bathroom, which wraps around a central hearth (Living/Kitchen/Dining). At mealtimes, he can sit down around a large table with other residents and staff members to enjoy conversation and a home-cooked meal. Or if he’d prefer to have a peanut butter sandwich, that’s fine, too. On warm days, he can sit on the screened porch to watch kids play ball on the field across the way, or tend the pots of flowers growing there.

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Avoiding Downcycling: Adaptive Use and Senior Housing

April 26th, 2016 by

Adaptive use projects are all the rage these days, with a wide variety of structures such as factories and underutilized Class B office buildings being converted to new uses such as multi-family residential and retail. While this appears to be a very recent trend, when it comes to senior housing, this is actually a very old-school trend, and not necessarily a good one.

For decades, facilities such as small, underperforming hospitals have been converted to affordable senior housing units and nursing homes. However, rather than acting as catalysts for revitalization of interesting historic properties, these conversions have all too often been exercises in “downcycling,” that is to say, converting to a lower use with a minimal investment of resources.

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Design Strategies for Building Additions and Alterations

April 5th, 2016 by

When architects are tasked with designing an addition or alteration to an existing building, the attitude and orientation of the new to the old is critical to the success of the design.

Should the new relate to the old? Should it boldly proclaim its difference or discreetly extend the look of the original? The answer, of course, depends on lots of factors: the age and quality of the original building, the replicability of its features, the size and scale of the addition relative to the original structure, the functional and site constraints dictating the location of the addition, the material and textural qualities of the original, whether the original is worth preserving, and more. What follows are a few very basic design strategies for deciding what form and appearance a building addition or alteration should take depending on the situation. Read more

Intergenerational Housing for Seniors on College Campuses

March 17th, 2016 by

In a recent blog post, Baby Boomers Will Demand Choices in Their Retirement, my colleague Faith Nevins touched on some of the lifestyle needs and expectations of today’s retiring seniors. Many choices addressing those needs and expectations have arisen over the past decade, and values such as maintaining or enhancing personal health and fitness, participation in stimulating experiences, and the desire to contribute to the community in meaningful ways have become strong motivators influencing retirement choices.

Seniors with mobility are looking at both small towns — especially near metropolitan areas with convenience to airports, medical facilities, arts and culture, and recreation nearby — for their generally friendly and simple lifestyle, as well as larger urban centers responding to the allure of stimulating cultural life, shopping, good public transportation, and an exciting lifestyle that may have been deferred while their kids were growing up.

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