Revitalised to Inspire Hope
The American Brewery project transforms a derelict 1887 building into one which demonstrated the owner's strong commitment to an extremely distressed neighbourhood, while at the same time preserving an iconic industrial structure and transforming it into a neighbourhood anchor.
History and Innovation
The brewhouse structure, built in 1887 as the Weissner Brewery, was one component of a thriving brewery complex which included stables, brewmaster's residence, and storage facilities, pump houses, etc. Prohibition was a key factor in the demise of the Weissner Brewery, which was sold and then started operation as the American Brewery in 1933. During this period, significant changes were made to the brewhouse to accommodate changes in the brewing process. The American Brewery closed its doors in 1973, and the building stood unoccupied since then. It was donated to the City of Baltimore in 1977. Various attempts were made to develop the property, but its location in one of the city's most troubled neighbourhoods was a strong deterrent. In 2005, the City gave development rights to a team headed by Humanim to develop the property as their headquarters. Humanim, a social services organization that was headquartered in the suburb of Columbia, already had a presence in leased space in the East Baltimore community, but was intent on finding the right fit for a new headquarters building that would put it among its constituents/client base. Henry Posko and Cindy Truitt of Humanim experienced "love at first sight" for the brewhouse, which then transformed into incredible determination and hard work to support their endeavour.
Program Brief Humanim's programmatic goals were to provide an attractive open office environment for their employees while also giving back to the community in the form of meeting and conference rooms able to be used by the community for a variety of activities, from job training to movie nights. The project pursued historic tax credits, and as such, the building exterior was completely restored to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. A new code-compliant stair was added at the rear of the building, expressed as a simple volume clad in metal "Victorian" shingles. While the brewery's thick brick walls remained in excellent shape, much of the wood floor and roof structure was compromised due to water infiltration, fire and vandalism during the thirty years it stood unoccupied. Exposed heavy timber structural elements were replaced in kind where deteriorated beyond repair.
The strength of the transformation is in the combination of telling the brewery story and saving an architectural icon. That goal was accomplished by exposing brick, wood and steel structure and incorporating elements of the brewing process into the design, including:
- The historic central grain chute, which is transformed into lobby spaces and orients visitors on each floor, along with the grain elevators, retained as artefacts in each lobby, that tell the story of the brewing process;
- Salvaged brew tanks, which are reworked to create meeting space, the main reception desk, the board room fireplace, and the exterior sign.
Community and Context
The once-vital East Baltimore neighbourhood where the brewery is located is plagued by daunting poverty, crime and unemployment statistics, such that it was the actual setting for the filming of the HBO series The Wire. Once the project was completed in May of 2009, positive changes began to occur and are ongoing to this day. Sustainability Aside from the huge savings of embodied energy by reuse of the existing building, other "green" elements include use of salvaged and recycled materials, operable and insulated windows, high efficiency HVAC and lighting systems, and maximizing daylight.