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October 24, 2018 / Member News

Cho Benn Holback + Associates, A Quinn Evans Company Receives Inaugural Social Equity Design Award for Dorothy I. Height Elementary School

Karl Connolly Photography


Baltimore, MD (October 24, 2018) – The opening of Dorothy I. Height Elementary School this year was the culmination of years of planning. The school was chosen as part of the 21st Century Schools Building Project, a $1 billion initiative led by City and State agencies to renovate or rebuild city school buildings in most need of maintenance. The 21st Century Schools program aims to take a holistic approach, recognizing that schools are both places of learning and community anchors, while taking a cost-effective approach to building high-quality schools that are sustainable and forward-looking.
Architects Cho Benn Holback + Associates, a Quinn Evans Company were selected to lead the design of the school, a renovation of a 1960s school site. From beginning to end, the architects engaged parents, teachers and neighbors in a series of workshops starting with the feasibility study and progressing through design development. Community members identified priorities and important design features that informed the direction and program of the architects’ design. One example is the auditorium. While combined cafeteria and auditoriums (cafetoriums) are now the norm, the community advocated keeping the building’s auditorium. The result was the transformation of the old auditorium into a professional performance space, complete with new theatrical lighting, sound systems, sloped seating and acoustic panels.
Creating amenities for the surrounding community played a large role in the project design. The school sits on a large green lot that doubles as a public square for the homes surrounding it. In addition to improved play and recreation areas, the program included a public park for the community. Residents are free to use amenities like the basketball courts and playground outside of school hours. The architects designed dedicated community spaces inside the building including a food pantry, laundry room, and an outreach center for under-served children and families.
Learning environments for students have been vastly improved. Large windows bring in daylight and provide views of the neighborhood. Collaborative break-out spaces provide flexible areas for learning and connect classrooms. And bright, modern classrooms with easily movable furniture make it easier to support multiple learning and teaching styles.

Photo courtesy Side A Photography


Dorothy I. Height Elementary School was the clear winner of the first AIA Baltimore and Neighborhood Design Center Social Equity Design Award. Organized in partnership with the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, the award recognizes community-driven projects that promote social equity through an inclusive and community-driven design process with an eye toward social justice, environmental sustainability and sense of place. The jury included architect and educator Leon Bridges, FAIA of Morgan State University; Jennifer Goold, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Design Center; and Jessica Solomon, Senior Program Officer of the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
The jury applauded the robust way the project collaborated with a deeply informed local community, leading to a school that truly serves community and purpose. One of the first projects to be completed under the 21st Century Schools initiative, Dorothy I. Height Elementary School has set the standard for school projects across Baltimore. The Social Equity Design Award was presented to the project team and school and community leaders at the 2018 AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Awards Celebration on October 19 at Center Stage.
View all AIA Baltimore Design Award Winners on the Design Awards webpage