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From School Construction News October 2013 

Baltimore Design School Revives Dilapidated Building

By Audrey Arthur (10/02/2013)

The Baltimore Design School is a historic adaptive reuse project headed by Ziger/Snead Architects that transformed a nearly 100-year-old factory into an inventive design school.BALTIMORE — The architects of Ziger/Snead have revived a once derelict, abandoned factory building into a modern space for innovative education.

With a mere $25 million budget, the Baltimore-based firm transformed the four-story, 120,000-square-foot building into a middle school and high school to serve students in fashion, architecture and graphic design programs.

“This building had been abandoned for over 30 years and it was really a blight on the neighborhood,” said Steve Ziger, AIA, partner at Ziger/Snead. “There’s been a number of attempts to renovate it, none of which came to fruition — that is until we made this school work.”

The building dates back to 1915 and carries with it a long history. First a warehouse to serve Crown Cork and Seal Company, the inventor of the bottle cap, the school became a factory for the men’s suit designers Lebow Bros. in the 1970s. The building was shuttered in 1985.

The long-abandoned building took on somewhat of a spooky ambiance over the years, Ziger said. The design team first entered the building to find old polyester suits still hanging on clothing racks and coffee cups left on ruined tables.

“When people first went through that building they thought we were crazy,” Ziger said.

But it is in the nature of architects to see potential in almost anything, Ziger said. So, with high hopes and an extremely limited budget, the design team began to find benefits and challenges in the nearly 100-year-old building.

The structure was badly deteriorated, Ziger explained; because of this the building required a lot of concrete repair. All new windows were designed because of missing windows throughout the original building. However, the extensive use of windows became a major benefit in the finished product.

“The bones of the building were really great and we have a really high ceiling height. Since it was designed as a factory building, natural light was such an important component of the original design,” ZIger said. “We really celebrated that with the new windows and it brings incredible light into the classrooms and throughout the building. It’s just phenomenal the quality of daylight in this school.”

Located in the Station North Arts District, the building began construction in May 2012 and opened in late August 2013. Southway Builders Inc., based in Baltimore, served as the project’s contractor. The location was a very important element of the project, Ziger said. In close proximity to the Maryland Institute and within the city’s arts district, the Baltimore Design School is in a developing area that spurs artistic inspiration.

Because the school is based in a nontraditional curriculum, the school’s design allows students to showcase their creativity through numerous exhibition spaces as well as flexible, multiuse spaces.

For example, the infrastructure of the dining hall allows for students to utilize the space as a fashion show runway complete with stage lighting and the necessary equipment. The school also features classrooms, student galleries, studio spaces, materials laboratories, media center, workout room and a courtyard performance space.

“The concept for the building was pretty much just a blank canvas for them to transform and we built in the infrastructure for them to use their imaginations in transforming the building,” Ziger said.

Throughout the public spaces and corridors, young designers will have the ability to showcase their work in a space that promotes creativity and transformation.

“Everywhere throughout the school we’ve taken opportunities to really demonstrate the power of design and design thinking,” Ziger said.

From B’More Magazine  March 2011

It’s not just chalk-stained lapels that give away a real educator. It’s their drive to achieve what’s best for the students, a drive clearly seen in those involved in creating the Baltimore Design School (BDS). People like Leslie Shepard, Executive Director of the Baltimore School for the Arts for 11 years and BDS board member.

“One way to dramatically improve a school system is to design schools that meet specific needs. Schools like the new Baltimore Design School give students motivation to do what they love and to get an education at the same time,” Shepard says. “Because of things like ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the accountability of test scores, there’s less art in schools, and that’s a national problem. So it’s great to have another school with an arts focus, that can lead to careers. It’s something I believe in, obviously.”

So what is the Baltimore Design School? Described as a new public transformation middle-high school, BDS will focus on fashion, architecture, and graphic design.

“A transformation school is similar to a charter school, except that Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) will be responsible for owning or leasing and maintaining the building,” says Mary-Ann Pinkard, BDS board member and chair of the BDS Principal Search Committee. “A small group of community leaders thought a school that concentrated on fashion, architecture, and design would be a great addition to Baltimore’s educational options, since there is no other school like it in the Baltimore area,” she adds.

The middle school program will feature courses designed to enhance 2-dimensional skills in drawing and painting, 3-dimensional skills in constructing, building, and design, and learning how to do it all with computers. Design majors at the high school level will then choose between Fashion Design, Architecture, and Graphic Design programs.

“The Baltimore Design School has the unique ability to bring contemporary design practices to city students. BDS is not intended as a rival to any other schools in the city, but instead a great partnership with schools such as the Baltimore School for the Arts. Both schools celebrate the arts, but take the art-specific curriculum in different directions that will complement each other, and hopefully create a lasting relationship between both schools,” says Kate Morrill, BDS Project Manager.

Karen Carroll, Chair of the BDS Education Committee and Dean of MICA’s Center for Art Education, emphasizes the students’ interest in “fashion ideas, creative problem-solving, three-dimensional ability, planning and building, and communicating visually through graphics. We love students who see problems that need new solutions, who envision possibilities and imagine a better world.”

Temporarily located at the site formerly housing Winston Middle School, 1101 Winston Avenue, at The Alameda and Beaumont Avenues, BDS will officially open the fall of this year with 75 6th grade students and 75 7th grade students with about 25 students per class.

After two to three years, the school will relocate to a new facility to be built in the new Station North Arts District. By 2016, BDS will be a grades 6-12 school.

“We’re still conducting the official lottery process for 6th grade students. We’re currently accepting 7th grade applications and we urge students to apply at www.baltimoredesignschool.org. We will have a faculty that fits the needs of the student body and that grows as our school increases in size,” Morrill says.

“The school is co-ed and is targeting children who are interested in drawing and making things…the school is open to all Baltimore City residents, regardless of their income. When the high school opens, admission will be based solely on the student’s portfolio. Attending the middle school does not guarantee a spot in the high school. Of course, BDS middle school students will be trained in putting together a portfolio as part of their curriculum,” Pinkard says.

Shepard explains that BDS isn’t a vocational school. Along with the arts program offerings, BDS will offer a full complement of courses one might expect at middle and high school levels. This would include class work in English, algebra, geometry, calculus, Earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, World History, American History, foreign language, etc. Students will take four 90-minute classes per day and there will be mid-day opportunities to participate in special interest clubs and activities.

Once at the high school level, students will elect a major from Architecture, Fashion, and Design and then take concentrated coursework in that major each year.

The architectural program includes interior and landscape design; students will learn freehand drawing, model building, and computer-aided design (CAD). In fashion, students will study pattern making, draping, tailoring, fine detailing, make-up, new accessories for functional clothing, high design, and art-to-wear. Students will do internships in fashion houses; seniors will participate in a runway show presenting their own fashion lines.

Web and gaming design will be a large part of the graphics program. Students will work on iMac computers to create logos, branding packages, posters, billboards, signage, and more.

“I do really think this is part of Dr. Alonso (Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System)’s philosophy of giving families a choice, versus the large, zoned school system that used to exist. He has created this new infrastructure, allowing people to choose schools that have a different focus or specialty. That’s the kind of model we have here, a place where students in architecture, design, or fashion can aspire — it’s just a wonderful addition to the school system,” Shepard says.

A native of Baltimore, Dan Collins is freelance writer/blogger, university instructor and public relations professional of more than 25 years.