Architect uses creative thin stone installation to capture downtown Baltimore’s eclectic history and deliver a chic affordable housing building.
As cities throughout North America move to rejuvenate neglected cores through intensification, planning affordable housing poses a unique challenge: how to redevelop economically and with an aesthetic that jives with the eclectic nature of historic cores. Having completed a successful and award-winning development in downtown Baltimore already, Fillat+ Architecture and their client, Housing Trust of America, eyed a vacant property for a new affordable apartment complex. Situated at an historic intersection, architect Peter Fillat and his team drew inspiration from a black and white photo that captured a bustling, integrated community.
Fillat+ Architecture didn’t want this new 71-unit project to look like low-income housing. The firm had already designed an award-winning project—the M on Madison—that blended modern panels with classic brick to reflect the building’s historic and cultural neighborhood. So, already inspired by Baltimore’s vibrant past, the team found inspiration in a black and white photograph from the 1950s; it showed a bustling intersection filled with multi-cultured pedestrian traffic crossing in every direction, including diagonally. How could designers translate this ‘barn dance’, this unique vibe of intersecting people and cultures onto the exterior of a modern affordable housing unit? In practicality, this project needed a high-quality exterior that would stand up to Baltimore’s four-season climate and meet budget constraints. The added challenge was to actualize these creative objectives as well.
Arriscraft suggested that the desired pixelated pattern (from the old photo) could be achieved using different colors of ARRIS-tile thin stone to create the distinct pattern. ARRIS-tile comes in a 2 ft. x 1 ft. size - an ideal format to create this unique pattern. Three standard colors were chosen, to create just the right gradation between the tones.
Although the team was concerned about adhesion of ARRIS-tile, the Arriscraft and Laticrete representatives reassured them that the installation was tried and true. ARRIS-tile, installed with the Laticrete MVIS system, is not only suitable for cold climate installation, but it also meets the High Velocity Hurricane Zone, Florida building code. The installer, Athena Stone, executed the pattern installation precisely. According to project architect Sergio Martinez, the entire building team embraced the design and worked collaboratively to see it come to life. “It did feel like a coming together of trades and resources, which was fitting for this marketplace intersection of the past," remarked Martinez.
As a thin stone, ARRIS-tile was an economical choice, for both installation and material cost. Using a standard size and colors also saved on costs. The individual tiles installed as a large graphic, with distinct red brick sections, makes the building look like a work of art, rather than an apartment building.