Baltimore's Edifice Complex / by Elijah Northen

There's a great street in South Baltimore. It's neither new, nor historic; traditional, nor contemporary; modern, nor classic. And it's not pretty. It's a potbellied Elvis of an edifice, cinching polyester form stone and vinyl sideburns over sweaty brick.

 Andre St. elevation looking east, showing various roof treatments

Andre St. elevation looking east, showing various roof treatments

Andre Street in Locust Point slinks heterogeneously beneath the decidedly modern Silo Point housing project pulsing overhead. There's evidence of organic growth in its patchwork that can't be replicated through clever variation of misguided architectural form. The Swiss cheese form stone that once sealed Baltimore's notoriously leaky brick mortar joints has devolved into an obsolete, wafer-thin pastiche, doing it best Christo impression on bay windows, dormers and (the epitome of vernacular Baltimore architectural tradition) the mansard roof.  

 Form stone clad dormer window and mansard roof

Form stone clad dormer window and mansard roof

Like the aging King himself, symbol and symbolized have fused into a single self referential caricature - the simulated stone, in unintentional postmodern fashion, defying nearly every intrinsic property of masonry construction; suspended, cantilevered, thin. A stone wallpaper, revealing its fraudulence at every 1-3/8" edge. It's unapologetic for its lies, and in candid duplicity establishes an honesty of its own. Self-parody is its value.

With each passing day time ripens this old zeitgeist into genius loci. And genius loci trumps zeitgeist. There's no new form stone, and less old every week. And though rapid gentrification seems not to find value in its contribution to the spirit of place, it's lucky to call Baltimore home. For if any city can see retention value in an outdated, gravity-defying bee hive of a "stone" surely it's this one.

 Andre St. elevation illustrating the clad bay window with Silo Point in the background

Andre St. elevation illustrating the clad bay window with Silo Point in the background