Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Historic preservation battle in Baltimore

I have written quite a bit about the "architecture of its time" versus "architecture of its place" as the guiding principle of historic preservation regulation, based on the arguments of Notre Dame architecture professor Stephen Semes.

"Maintaining a broad stylistic consistency in traditional settings is not a matter of 'nostalgia,'" he says. "It's a matter of common sense, of reinforcing the sense of place that made a building or neighborhood special to begin with. But many academically trained preservationists want to impose their inevitably subjective notions of what the architecture 'of our time' is."

-- "An argument for the aesthetic quality of the ensemble: special design guidelines are required for DC's avenues," 2015
-- "Treating an entire city as a heritage area/conservation district, rather than a neighborhood by neighborhood approach," 2020
-- "Steven Semes: The Conservation Architect," Traditional Building

Generally, the Secretary of Interior guidelines recommend that new architecture look new, rather than try to copy historic architecture.  While that seems logical, the problem is that new architecture tends to significantly diminish the quality of the ensemble of historic architecture.  New architecture ends up being a gash in the quality of the whole.  

This exact dialectic is in play in Baltimore, where an execrable proposed design for an apartment building in the Clipper Mill district of Woodberry/Hampden (really Woodberry but close to Hampden) was rejected by Baltimore's design oversight body for historic districts and urban design matters, the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation ("Signaling conflict ahead, Baltimore historic preservation commission denies approval to Clipper Mill apartment building plans," Baltimore Sun).

-- Poole & Hunt Foundry Complex

The rendering of the proposed new building illustrates the issue quite clearly, especially compared to the historic buildings of the Clipper Mill complex.

This situation is a little more complicated, because another apartment building, shown in the rendering immediately above, was approved before the area received historic designation.  And because the proposal is from the owners of Clipper Mill.  And the owners sued the residents and groups opposing new housing projects ("Developer of Clipper Mill in Baltimore files $25 million lawsuit against residents opposing more housing," Sun).

The proposed building will replace a metal warehouse building next to this stone building that is part of the original complex.

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