Modern Baltimore: Then and Now

Late 2009. I heard about this building, The Brown Center, at the Marylard Institute College of Arts. Widely praised by both the architectural community and the city of Baltimore.

...simply the finest Modern building erected in Baltimore or Washington since I.M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery of Art made headlines in 1978." - Architectural Record

I wanted to see it for myself. So the next time I went home I stopped by made a couple of photographs. Couldn't stay long as we had dinner plans at the Woodberry Kitchen.(Highly recommended if you're ever in Baltimore)

I found out that Ziger/Snead was the architect in partnership with architect Charles Brickbauer. In the cruel world of architecture where criticism of students, peers, and clients is ruthless. I attempt a different approach, I openly praise good work. I did so with Mr. Brickbauer, we traded a few emails, and added to my list of buildings to visit in Baltimore were the Sun Life Building and the Mercantile Bank & Trust building, both located on Hopkins Plaza. It wasn't until last weekend that I was able to visit them and found another...

Hopkin's Plaza

Top left, Mercantile Bank & Trust. Top right, Morris Mechanic Theatre. Bottom right, Sun Life Building.

1966 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre (Landmarked, awaiting rehab)

The Morris A. Mechanic Theatre opened in 1967 as part of the Charles Center renewal zone to bring more people into the city. It closed more than 30 years later when the larger France-Merrick Performing Arts Center reopened. The theater was sold in 2005 for $6 million to One West Baltimore Street Associates, who want to convert the property into a mixed-use center containing shops, offices, residences and possibly a hotel. Baltimore's preservation commission has voted to add the building to the city's landmark list, which could limit how the structure is developed. Theater owner and real estate investor Morris Mechanic built the 1,614-seat modern theater on Hopkins Plaza, and Baltimore became known as a "tryout town," where shows worked out their kinks in front of an audience before opening in New York....In 1976, the city formed the nonprofit Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts to rescue the theater. A review deemed the Mechanic Theatre too small and outdated for the larger productions that have come out in the '80s and '90s, such as "Miss Saigon" and "Phantom of the Opera," spurring operators Clear Channel and the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts to redevelop the Hippodrome. - Baltimore Sun

This was the project that caught me by surprise. I knew nothing about it's existence before arriving at the location and sadly it seems to be in horrible condition and poorly tended to over the years. It was certainly a 'monster' that dared to be something special. For 30 years it seemed to be, perhaps it will be successfully reperposed. (Last image is a rendering of the potential rehab) I'm assuming the rehab is on hold, it doesn't look like any work ever got started or is beginning soon. Hopefully something can be done soon. You can see more photos that people have taken of it on flickr.

Designed by John Johansen.

1967 Sun Life Building

Designed to provide a company image for the Sun Life Insurance Company of America, clad in black granite, stainless steel and French marble, the structure is boldly simply in concept. Its twelve-story, 120,000 square foot office tower is supported by four big steel columns tied together by two pairs of deep welded trusses. The Building rests on a grey granite podium devoted entirely to an open terrance.

I unfortunately got stuck in traffic along I-95 and missed the tiny opportunity of good light on the front facade before the much taller neighboring towers cast shadows upon it. The project is seemingly dwarfed by its neighbors, this will only get worse should the proposed rehab of the Mechanic Theatre proceed. Such is life, even so I enjoyed the architecture.

Designed by Charles Brickbauer.

1970 Mercantile Bank & Trust Building (now PNC Bank)

The design is straightforward and economical: a twenty-one story 350,000 square foot reinforced concrete office building in which the structure is also the architecture. The exterior is buff colored and bush-hammered concrete with bronze colored glass in bronze anodized aluminum frames. Polished stainless steel tracks for the window washers' scaffold provide a contrasting effect. The adjoining two-story glass pavilion is treated to make it seem as separate and transparent as possible. -C. Brickbauer

I had this beautiful elevation lined up only to be "asked to leave Federal property." What Federal property would that be? The steps into a "public" plaza. I was in no mood to argue or get thrown in the slammer so I politely moved down the steps to the landing and recomposed...

Designed by Charles Brickbauer.


2003 Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art

The boldly sculptural Brown Center, designed in conjunction with Charles Brickbauer, was the first new building to be constructed on the campus in nearly a century. The center’s crystalline architecture provides an appropriately dynamic image for the college’s growing digital arts department. The angular geometries of the plan were generated by site constraints and translated to the building’s elevations. The faceted exterior is clad in translucent white glass to provide solar shading and create a provocative counterpoint to the white limestone of the college’s Renaissance Revival main building which stands across Mount Royal Ave. The new structure is meant to stimulate a dialogue between contemporary and traditional forms, technologies and materials. While it may appear complex from the outside, the Brown Center is a simple plan with classrooms and other programmatic space wrapped by light-filled hallways which become exhibition and critique space for student work. This four-story concrete structure adjoins a dynamic full-height steel-framed atrium space which functions as the social heart of the facility. This main lobby in turn opens to the newly-created lawn and the historic community beyond. In addition to studio classrooms, the $16 million, 61,000 sf building houses a 535-seat auditorium, galleries, meeting and lecture rooms, a video studio, offices, and support spaces. The Brown Center and its new Plaza have together been carefully conceived to transform a parking lot into a vibrant campus center. The geometry and scale of the new facility, outdoor gathering places, fountain, and pedestrian paths all serve to gather the disparate surrounding structures into a cohesive urban place and a center of campus life.

The latest and crown jewel of Modern Baltimore. When I first visited, I was captivated with the exterior. This visit while some rooms had classes in session and others were clearly in 'student used' condition, I came away even more impressed with the project. The hype and high praise of this project are well deserved. I'll also add that it's encouraging to see an 'iconic' and functional project built for $16million. Which to the non-architect seems like a great value for the budget. I recommend you visit Ziger/Snead's website to see evening photographs which are truly spectacular. I would have stayed to make my own but somehow I get the feeling MICA security would have questioned 'the guy' turning all the lights on and lifting the shades.

Visit both Ziger/Snead and Charles Brickbauer. Z/S has a great new website with large images featuring a terrific portfolio of work. When you visit Mr. Brickbauer's site make sure you take a look at 'Blue Cross Blue Shield' project.