Baltimore Clayworks

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

RTKL uses historical context to inform and guide a modern architectural expression.

Images courtesy of RTKL
Baltimore Clayworks

Project Team
Architecture Firm: RTKL
Civil Engineering: TSA Associates
Landscape Architecture: Lazarus Jones
Contractor: Henry H. Lewis
Owner: Baltimore Clayworks
Project Team
Architecture Firm: RTKL
Civil Engineering: TSA Associates
Landscape Architecture: Lazarus Jones
Contractor: Henry H. Lewis
Owner: Baltimore Clayworks
Project Team
Architecture Firm: RTKL
Civil Engineering: TSA Associates
Landscape Architecture: Lazarus Jones
Contractor: Henry H. Lewis
Owner: Baltimore Clayworks

Housed in a historic, former Carnegie library, in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, the Baltimore Clayworks is a non-profit (501c3) ceramic arts center founded in 1978 by artists who sought to establish a hub for anyone wishing to learn about or experience the fine art of clay. The group’s primary mission is to “develop, sustain and promote an artist-centered community that provides outstanding educational, artistic and collaborative programs in the ceramic arts.” In 2000, a secondary mission was to renovate (and bring up to code) the aging building, while maintaining as much of its original design and materials as possible, and doing so with the Clayworks kilns still firing.

The addition and renovation project was awarded to RTKL Associates Inc.’s Baltimore office. The firm says its goals for the project – which was completed in 2005 – were lengthy but clear:

  • Create opportunities for building community by the appropriate and appealing use of space among the artists, students, and the Clayworks board, staff and volunteers
  • Use the buildings to advance and to give visibility to the programs that RTKL operates in inner city Baltimore and statewide
  • Maximize revenue-generating operations (café, gift shop) for the Clayworks without undermining adequate program and artist workspace
  • Create a viable campus to best be used strategically to increase Clayworks’ competitive advantage in a changing environment.

Baltimore Clayworks restoration
Images courtesy of RTKL

Robert Berry, RTKL’s vice president for its commercial architecture studio in Washington, D.C., and a former Baltimore office leader, spoke with Masonry Design about the project, including a discussion on “marrying” new materials to old, challenges overcome and community involvement.

Marrying materials
When renovating a historic building, matching materials (or in some cases replacing an entire façade with era-appropriate materials) is one of the most important details to get right. First, owners require historical accuracy and an attention to detail. Second, the result – particularly when dealing with the façade – is the public’s first impression of the rebuilt structure. For the Baltimore Clayworks, RTKL says because of both budget constraints and the need for a utilitarian building appropriate to match the building’s studio function, the firm knew it would use a brick exterior finish that would reference the original brick in scale without replicating the exact size, while also referencing the age of the existing building and the owner’s desire to create a modern feel. “We selected a wire-cut brick finish that closely matched the existing brick in color, but had a more modern look than the tumbled existing brick, which we felt wasn’t appropriate for a more modern interpretation of a contemporary architectural addition,” Berry said.

“Similarly, due to the nature of dirt buildup associated with clay art, the client expressed an interest in having an interior finish of exposed concrete, both for the new walls and the floors that contribute to easy wash-down of the facilities,” Berry added. Therefore, he said, the interior walls – painted CMU block – were left exposed. (The original interior walls had a plaster finish.) Additionally, the hollow-core concrete plank floors were left exposed, and the transition between existing to new structure was resolved by the design and location of a two-story glass entrance vestibule and elevator lobby.

RTKL's Baltimore Clayworks restoration
Images courtesy of RTKL

Project challenges

As with any project, there are challenges to overcome: both typical complications and project-specific difficulties. RTKL and the rest of the renovation team certainly had their share, including the need to upgrade the Clayworks to meet ADA standards.

exterior view of Baltimore Clayworks restoration
Images courtesy of RTKL

Of course, budgetary hurdles are to be expected. With this project, the original construction schedule called for a completion date that would allow for building occupancy corresponding to beginning of the Clayworks’ class schedule. During the overall design process, this schedule was revisited a number of times, Berry said, because of funding issues. However, every hurdle eventually was jumped, thanks to a collaborative construction and design team, as well as the benefit of building material donations, and an aggressive and successful fundraising campaign. The budget for the project is classified at the request of the owner.

Berry said that first and foremost, the successful operation of the Baltimore Clayworks relies upon the proper firing and operation of its two gas-fired kilns. The addition and renovation of the facility had to be organized around the need to keep these kilns operational during the entirety of the construction. “Deb Bedwell, director of the Baltimore Clayworks was once quoted during a meeting saying ‘You can do whatever you want here, but you are not allowed to touch those kilns.’ However, a tight site and programmatic requirements of the building necessitated minimal yet complicated alterations to the kiln exhaust systems in order that they met code,” Berry said.

Another major challenge before and during construction was the need to make the building handicap accessible. “The restrictive and challenging nature of the site made solutions for bringing the entire site and building up to accessibility standards a particular challenge,” Berry said. For example, the elevator had to be located to a position that had a minimal impact on the organization of the studio space, but also served four levels in a three-story structure, because the main kiln room is on an occupied floor. Additionally, the fact that the building lies within a 100-year flood plain contributed to this challenge, Berry said, because classroom and studio space could not be added within the flood plain.

Finally, marrying a contemporary addition to a structure with a rich traditional architectural style proved to be a challenge, Berry said. “We wanted an addition that arrived at a contextual sensitivity, but that simultaneously had a contemporary identity appropriate to the contemporary studio and classroom activity occurring within. The addition appropriately responds to the scale and materiality of the existing historic structure without overwhelming the structure.”

Masonry restoration
Images courtesy of RTKL

Community involvement

Berry says the Mt. Washington neighborhood and surrounding community were heavily involved in the design process. After all, the Clayworks is an important cultural space for many, an artistic haven for others, and a historic building that no one wanted to lose. “We had multiple presentations/conversations with the Mount Washington Improvement Association, the Mt. Washington Design Review Committee, the organization CHAPS [Committee for Historic and Architectural Preservation], and the Mt. Washington Retail Association,” Berry said.

Innate in all of the work Berry and RTKL does is the importance of the client/designer collaborative relationship, which in this case also includes a concerned public. “Inherent in all built projects is the residue of compromise,” Berry says. “…The Baltimore Clayworks project is much smaller than the work RTKL typically undertakes for its commercial clients. However, successful design transcends a project’s given size. This project works because it is an example of a project that doesn’t outright reject the site’s history and traditional context, but uses that context to inform and guide a modern architectural expression – thereby creating a result whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Coca-Cola Bottling Works building

Coca-Cola Bottling Works

Preserving another part of America’s valuable, small-town history

Few things could be described as being more American than Harley-Davidson and Coca-Cola. It is quite fitting, then, that these companies would be a large part of York, Pa., history, especially since York often is recognized as the first capital of the United States. Even more fitting is the renovation and historical restoration project of a 1940’s former Coca-Cola Bottling Works building, nearing completion at press time just a few miles from the Harley-Davidson factory. Built in 1942, the masonry on the old bottling plant was covered by a prefabricated metal addition in 1979, and is now being adapted for reuse as a climate-controlled, self-storage facility.

Architect Danika Dallam, RA, vice president of York-based SAA Architects, fondly recalls touring the building as an elementary student. “SAA’s owner, Mark Shermyer, and I both remember when the building was in use as the Coca-Cola Bottling Works,” she said. “Mark has a big background in restoration and adaptive re-use, so we were particularly pleased to be working on this project.” The building’s owner, Ken Snyder, himself a highly skilled mason, was extremely supportive of the masonry restoration effort, bringing aboard two local companies to assist: mason contractor Donald W. Miller, Inc., and masonry color experts Exact Match Masonry Staining.

Dallam recalls many challenges. “Our primary focus for an adaptive reuse design is how well we can make the original structure adapt to the new proposed use. This structure was ideal for self storage!” The original windows, designed to permit natural light for the bottling staff, allowed storage units to be visible from the exterior, which is the current trend with self-storage. Dallam explained, “If we want people staring at what’s going on within the building, we need the area around the windows to be just as beautiful!”

Upon removing metal panels around the façade, Dallam’s team was disappointed to discover large amounts of missing cast stone. “Fortunately, when the building addition was added on, they did not remove the cast stone features on the east side. The coping and finials were removed by a crane and replaced on the façade.” Another victory was counted when the general contractor located the manufacturer of the original cast stone, who still had the molds from the 1940’s to replace the missing pieces. The next challenge came when the pre-cast architectural accents were put in to place and all of the masonry cleaning, restoration and patchwork had been done. Dallam recalls, “The Art Deco façade was restored, but the problem was the glaring difference between the original, weathered precast and the new sections.” Matthew Gill, operations manager for Exact Match Masonry Staining, describes his work on the site. “Aging pre-cast to get an exact match can be tricky, but we took the new precast from 2008 to circa 1940 in two days. Our product carries a 30-year warranty, so the approach we took – as well as the custom colors created onsite – had to be literally perfect, because there was no getting the product back off again once we put it on.”

Gill’s team also visually reduced excess mortar from re-pointed areas with staining techniques, matched brick from various stages of past renovation, and color-corrected other areas of excessively weathered precast that needed to be renewed. “We were the last puzzle piece to the renovation and getting the exact match that Danika and SAA had in mind,” he said. “When there are limitations with matching materials, we remove the limitations so that masons, architects, general contractors and building owners can do their final inspection and find no evidence that a mismatch ever existed. It’s ironic. We do our job so well that no one can spot where we’ve worked!”

Dallam and SAA Architects look forward to the completion of the project; the firm will celebrate the adaptive re-use and preservation of another part of America’s valuable, small-town history.

Jennifer Gill is a freelance writer and marketing director for Exact Match Masonry Staining

Coca-Cola Bottling Works building

Coca-Cola Bottling Works

Preserving another part of America’s valuable, small-town history

Few things could be described as being more American than Harley-Davidson and Coca-Cola. It is quite fitting, then, that these companies would be a large part of York, Pa., history, especially since York often is recognized as the first capital of the United States. Even more fitting is the renovation and historical restoration project of a 1940’s former Coca-Cola Bottling Works building, nearing completion at press time just a few miles from the Harley-Davidson factory. Built in 1942, the masonry on the old bottling plant was covered by a prefabricated metal addition in 1979, and is now being adapted for reuse as a climate-controlled, self-storage facility.

Architect Danika Dallam, RA, vice president of York-based SAA Architects, fondly recalls touring the building as an elementary student. “SAA’s owner, Mark Shermyer, and I both remember when the building was in use as the Coca-Cola Bottling Works,” she said. “Mark has a big background in restoration and adaptive re-use, so we were particularly pleased to be working on this project.” The building’s owner, Ken Snyder, himself a highly skilled mason, was extremely supportive of the masonry restoration effort, bringing aboard two local companies to assist: mason contractor Donald W. Miller, Inc., and masonry color experts Exact Match Masonry Staining.

Dallam recalls many challenges. “Our primary focus for an adaptive reuse design is how well we can make the original structure adapt to the new proposed use. This structure was ideal for self storage!” The original windows, designed to permit natural light for the bottling staff, allowed storage units to be visible from the exterior, which is the current trend with self-storage. Dallam explained, “If we want people staring at what’s going on within the building, we need the area around the windows to be just as beautiful!”

Upon removing metal panels around the façade, Dallam’s team was disappointed to discover large amounts of missing cast stone. “Fortunately, when the building addition was added on, they did not remove the cast stone features on the east side. The coping and finials were removed by a crane and replaced on the façade.” Another victory was counted when the general contractor located the manufacturer of the original cast stone, who still had the molds from the 1940’s to replace the missing pieces. The next challenge came when the pre-cast architectural accents were put in to place and all of the masonry cleaning, restoration and patchwork had been done. Dallam recalls, “The Art Deco façade was restored, but the problem was the glaring difference between the original, weathered precast and the new sections.” Matthew Gill, operations manager for Exact Match Masonry Staining, describes his work on the site. “Aging pre-cast to get an exact match can be tricky, but we took the new precast from 2008 to circa 1940 in two days. Our product carries a 30-year warranty, so the approach we took – as well as the custom colors created onsite – had to be literally perfect, because there was no getting the product back off again once we put it on.”

Gill’s team also visually reduced excess mortar from re-pointed areas with staining techniques, matched brick from various stages of past renovation, and color-corrected other areas of excessively weathered precast that needed to be renewed. “We were the last puzzle piece to the renovation and getting the exact match that Danika and SAA had in mind,” he said. “When there are limitations with matching materials, we remove the limitations so that masons, architects, general contractors and building owners can do their final inspection and find no evidence that a mismatch ever existed. It’s ironic. We do our job so well that no one can spot where we’ve worked!”

Dallam and SAA Architects look forward to the completion of the project; the firm will celebrate the adaptive re-use and preservation of another part of America’s valuable, small-town history.

Jennifer Gill is a freelance writer and marketing director for Exact Match Masonry Staining

Coca-Cola Bottling Works building

Coca-Cola Bottling Works

Preserving another part of America’s valuable, small-town history

Few things could be described as being more American than Harley-Davidson and Coca-Cola. It is quite fitting, then, that these companies would be a large part of York, Pa., history, especially since York often is recognized as the first capital of the United States. Even more fitting is the renovation and historical restoration project of a 1940’s former Coca-Cola Bottling Works building, nearing completion at press time just a few miles from the Harley-Davidson factory. Built in 1942, the masonry on the old bottling plant was covered by a prefabricated metal addition in 1979, and is now being adapted for reuse as a climate-controlled, self-storage facility.

Architect Danika Dallam, RA, vice president of York-based SAA Architects, fondly recalls touring the building as an elementary student. “SAA’s owner, Mark Shermyer, and I both remember when the building was in use as the Coca-Cola Bottling Works,” she said. “Mark has a big background in restoration and adaptive re-use, so we were particularly pleased to be working on this project.” The building’s owner, Ken Snyder, himself a highly skilled mason, was extremely supportive of the masonry restoration effort, bringing aboard two local companies to assist: mason contractor Donald W. Miller, Inc., and masonry color experts Exact Match Masonry Staining.

Dallam recalls many challenges. “Our primary focus for an adaptive reuse design is how well we can make the original structure adapt to the new proposed use. This structure was ideal for self storage!” The original windows, designed to permit natural light for the bottling staff, allowed storage units to be visible from the exterior, which is the current trend with self-storage. Dallam explained, “If we want people staring at what’s going on within the building, we need the area around the windows to be just as beautiful!”

Upon removing metal panels around the façade, Dallam’s team was disappointed to discover large amounts of missing cast stone. “Fortunately, when the building addition was added on, they did not remove the cast stone features on the east side. The coping and finials were removed by a crane and replaced on the façade.” Another victory was counted when the general contractor located the manufacturer of the original cast stone, who still had the molds from the 1940’s to replace the missing pieces. The next challenge came when the pre-cast architectural accents were put in to place and all of the masonry cleaning, restoration and patchwork had been done. Dallam recalls, “The Art Deco façade was restored, but the problem was the glaring difference between the original, weathered precast and the new sections.” Matthew Gill, operations manager for Exact Match Masonry Staining, describes his work on the site. “Aging pre-cast to get an exact match can be tricky, but we took the new precast from 2008 to circa 1940 in two days. Our product carries a 30-year warranty, so the approach we took – as well as the custom colors created onsite – had to be literally perfect, because there was no getting the product back off again once we put it on.”

Gill’s team also visually reduced excess mortar from re-pointed areas with staining techniques, matched brick from various stages of past renovation, and color-corrected other areas of excessively weathered precast that needed to be renewed. “We were the last puzzle piece to the renovation and getting the exact match that Danika and SAA had in mind,” he said. “When there are limitations with matching materials, we remove the limitations so that masons, architects, general contractors and building owners can do their final inspection and find no evidence that a mismatch ever existed. It’s ironic. We do our job so well that no one can spot where we’ve worked!”

Dallam and SAA Architects look forward to the completion of the project; the firm will celebrate the adaptive re-use and preservation of another part of America’s valuable, small-town history.

Jennifer Gill is a freelance writer and marketing director for Exact Match Masonry Staining

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