Sequestered in a conference room at CSD Architects in Oriole Park for this year's juried, 25th annual Baltimore magazine/AIA Baltimore 2008 Residential Design Awards, a trio of architect jurors pored over before and after photos, elevation plans, and architectural renderings detailing the goals of the dozens of submitted projects.
"The field of candidates was incredibly rich," says juror Frank Dittenhafer II, vice president of Murphy & Dittenhafer, who served along with Tom Liebel, associate principal with Marks, Thomas Architects, and Anath Ranon, associate with Cho Benn Holback + Associates.
The three judges faced the formidable task of selecting a handful of winners out of 38 outstanding residential projects presented by 20 firms. But after five hours, some heated conversation, and cajoling for consensus, the jury gave a nod to six firms. Envelopes please…
1. In a competition dominated by contemporary and modern design, the jurors were wowed by the seamless melding of old and new in the Millman residence in Chevy Chase, a classic 1910 American Foursquare home renovated and restored by Wiedemann Architects.
While the previous owners of the home had kept it in the same family for three generations, the interior had fallen into great disrepair and needed a major rehaul. When the Millmans purchased it, they took on an extensive, painstaking, year-long renovation-restoration process. "I remember stepping into the house at the beginning," recalls principal architect Greg Wiedemann, "and there was a gentleman there in his 90's surrounded by all his magazines and stacks of canceled checks from the past 30 years. The plaster was falling down all around him, and he had let the house completely deteriorate, but the Millmans were able to see through all that."
Jurors were impressed by the architect's creative solution of space, including two additional living levels gained by finishing an attic into an office and the addition of a fifth bedroom, bathroom, mudroom, and recreation room through the renovation of a lower-level crawl space. Amazingly, despite the drastic transformation, only 100 square feet was actually added to the space.
The house, originally built by architect Alexander H. Sonnemann (whose father helped design the dome of the Capitol Building), was "a high-end Foursquare," says project architect Felix Gonzalez, "but inside the finishes were not high-end, and we wanted the outside to match the inside." Says Weidemann, "We doubled the use of the area of the house with only a very modest breakfast room as part of a one-story addition to the house. Now there are four living levels of the house. Yet, from the outside it looks very much like the 1910 original house."
2. The necessities of modern family life also drove the thoughtful renovation of an 18th-century Fells Point brick row house by Oregon-based Climate Architecture + Landscape, which impressed the judges for imbuing a dark, choppy space with light.
In this project, the clients Amy Vona Cooney and John Cooney were also the architects. When the Cooneys purchased the property, it was a rental property that had suffered from 30 years of badly executed renovations. "It was so compartmentalized and broken up into several small spaces, you couldn't get a feel for the grandeur of the space," recalls Amy. "Anything historic was gone. It was circa 1970's cheap." The space also suffered from a lack of light. "Row homes are landlocked," says John. "This one was very dark, and made you feel like you were in a rat warren."
The architect's primary design directive was to allow light to soak the space. To achieve that, the couple added two steel staircases with two pairs of skylights above, allowing the light to penetrate the three-level row home. Sliding translucent doors, glass wall systems, and moveable walls throughout the home allow for the exchange of natural and artificial light.
"Once we opened up the space with the first skylight," says Amy, "it was such a natural idea to add light wherever we could." Also important in the design was the creation of private areas for family life with two children, and public spaces where the couple could see clients at their home-based firm. To that end, a carriage house became the home office while a media room served a dual purpose as a place to make client presentations by day and a place to commune with their children at night.
3. Location, location, location was the challenge for principal architect Charles Alexander of Ellicott-City based Alexander Design Studio whose Overlook at Clipper Mill was the only multifamily housing entry. The issue at stake: how to incorporate a new housing community into a unique industrial setting—Baltimore's 200-year-old Mill Valley neighborhood of Woodbury, once home to foundries and textile mills surrounded by working-class Baltimore rowhomes.
"We got hired by [developer Struever Brothers] because the intention was to do something modern," says Alexander. "It was Struever Brothers' desire to not put something that was the same thing everyone else had on the market and to have a green element as well."
One of the biggest hurdles was figuring out how to minimally disturb a hilly site with radical changes in topography while creating 34 similar layouts. "You can't underestimate the difficulty of the hillside," says Alexander. "You are supposed to make money on these, so you can't design each house individually, but to some extent, each foundation had to be done differently."
Key design elements of the stone and board-and-batten-sided duplexes (ranging in size from 2,000 to 2,600 square feet) include soaring floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a main living space created from a loft that includes dining and kitchen areas, and clerestory lighting in the bathrooms allowing light to filter in, while maintaining privacy. Green elements include precut studs to prevent waste during framing, formaldehyde-free wall and attic insulation, tankless hot water heaters, and low-energy appliances. In addition, all materials are made from recyclable or non off-gassing products.
4. A stunning new 6,200 square-foot cedar-sided and zinc-clad contemporary home in northern Baltimore County designed by Douglas Bothner and Jamie Snead of Baltimore-based Ziger/Snead delighted the jury for its pared-down exterior palette (only zinc, glass, cedar, and mahogany), pure geometric forms, and impeccable sense of style.
While the home sits in a suburb dominated by low-slung 1960's ranch homes, the jury was also struck by the creative way the two-story residence (which appears to be only one level from the street) accommodates the dictates of a sloping hillside.
"One of the goals was to have the backyard be very accessible," says Bothner, "so we came up with a solution that allowed the front of the house to be complementary to the ranch expression of the neighborhood, but immediately when you enter you go down a grand stair, and the living level is actually on the lower level."
While the main body of the house includes open spaces comprised of a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a soaring 18-foot high space, there are also smaller spaces—several cedar-sided "boxes"—plus a foyer, a guest room/office, and master bedroom suite to provide privacy. Interior and exterior spaces are blurred as well: A custom mahogany window-wall system in the great room seems to extend to the terraces, the gardens, and the spectacular swimming pool. And every space offers unobstructed views of the pastoral piece of property.
Green features include the siting of the house, radiant concrete and tile floors to keep the interior spaces warm in the winter, and high-performance glazing with ceramic frit on the glass and large exterior overhangs to help reduce solar heat gain in the summer.
5. The Wissioming Residence in Glen Echo, built by Robert M. Gurney of Robert M. Gurney Architect, won praise for its clean, crisp composition of spaces and engagement with nature.
The clients, a builder/developer and his wife, wanted a change from their Craftsmen-style home in Bethesda and hired Gurney to build them a new modern house on a heavily wooded, steeply sloping lot overlooking the Potomac River. "They wanted to live in a new, light-filled modern house that took advantage of the views," says Gurney, "so they bought property in a rare enclave of modern houses for the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area."
The exterior material palette included structural precast concrete planks, wood siding, terned-coated stainless steel, translucent fiber glass, and bluestone and gravel paths that blend beautifully into the natural setting, while water elements such as an entranceway pond and a swimming pool suspended 20-feet above grade echo views of the river. Minimalist interior materials including white terrazzo flooring, white oak cabinetry, and aluminum draw attention outward and complete the dialogue between interior and exterior spaces.
"As with a lot of my projects," says Gurney, "we are breaking down different spaces. We are defining spaces with different volumes and different volumes in different materials, and there's not a lot of superfluous space. There's one eating space, one cooking space, one living space."
The space is so spare and seamless, in fact, that when the clients' housekeeper stood in the open dining room/kitchen area for the first time, she was confused. Says Gurney with a laugh, "She's standing in the dining room and asking, 'Where's the kitchen?'"
6. In this day and age of super-sized homes, the jury commended the suitably scaled Calem-Rubin residence in Bethesda, designed by Alexandria-based David Jameson of David Jameson Architect.
Restraint is what Jameson had in mind when he convinced his clients that, rather than tear down the existing 1939 brick colonial, preserving some aspects of the original home would be the way to go. "The footprint of the existing house was very advantageous," says Jameson. "It was a well-built, time-honored home that worked within the context of the project."
While the architect was sensitive to the needs of a neighborhood rife with traditional post-war homes, the clients sought a more modern form. To that end, stone, cedar, stucco, and metal elements were used to redefine the home. And, while not apparent to the eye, aspects of the original home such as gabled brick walls were reclad in stone, the foundation was retained, and original floor joists were used on the first and second floor.
A modern vocabulary is achieved through the refinement of shapes and textures, including stone-encrusted pavilions, linear stucco privacy walls, a mahogany brise-soleil, a second-floor bridge overlooking the living room, and a third floor, 360-degree glass "moat" window that seems to float as it draws light 21-feet down into the core volume of the space.