Thursday, January 29, 2009

Higher Ed Architecture

A few weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion on the proposed Stefan Behnisch building for the University of Baltimore Law School. In thinking about the international design competition that led up to the selection of that architect, it occurred to me that one of the biggest developers in Baltimore today is higher education. Johns Hopkins University has expanded both its Homewood and its East Baltimore campuses; the University of Maryland has expanded on the West side. The Maryland Institute College of Art in recent years has added two dynamic structures to its campus—The Brown Center and the Gateway Building. And now UB has hosted a design competition that attracted some of the top names in architecture. In the case of MICA and UB, the schools have taken on the role of patron, advancing architecture in the city (JHU and Univ of MD, on the other hand, failed to capture this opportunity and produced mediocre design). Could the universities go even further? Could they inspire beyond the bounds of their campus?

Last year, Syracuse University named its dean of the School of Architecture, Mark Robbins, a senior advisor for architecture and urban initiatives. The Architect's Newspaper reported at the time that "the struggling upstate city has already benefited from the attention of Robbins and the university, and in the next couple of years Robbins plans to roll out an impressive roster of new buildings and initiatives both for campus and town, including projects by such marquee name designers and emerging talents as Toshiko Mori, Koning Eizenberg, and Field Operations."

This week the school announced the winners of From the Ground Up: Innovative Green Homes, a design competition for sustainable housing under $150,000. The goal:

"From the Ground Up seeks to provide a new model for formerly vital, urban residential neighborhoods throughout the United States through the creation of sustainable, affordable housing. Selected teams will work on infill sites, proposing designs for an 1,100 to 1,500-square-foot, single-family home. The goal of the competition is to create innovative designs for cost efficient, green prototypes that are sensitive to the scale and composition of the existing conditions, while providing a new vision that is legible to a wide array of existing and potential residents."

This is something that I've talked about with people in Baltimore for years—a competition that looks for sustainable, inexpensive infill housing for the vacant lots and broken teeth of rowhouse blocks. (Here's one solution that a group of us came up with.)

Here are the finalists from the Syracuse competition.

Cook + Fox's Live-Work Home. The facade is a perforated sunscreen.

This design created by Philadelphia firm Onion Flats can also be turned into duplexes.

ARO and Della Valle Bernheimer partnered on this design. Called R-House, it is fabricated out of polycarbonate and aluminum.