Architect Jeffery Broadhurst at "The Crib" at Strathmore Music Center
… Not a second blog post about The Crib?, you may be saying. Hey, I didn’t get to see it the first time I posted about it, so sue me. But it was something cool to see and it’s a credit to the folks at Strathmore Music Center that they viewed their mission broadly about using art — in this case, architecture — to make people feel something/think something. Why The Crib project has relevance for a blog titled “Smart Growth Maryland” is because a Rockville architect sought to bring style and livability to a space no larger than a one-car garage. We’re not suggesting folks start choosing to live in dwellings of 400 square feet, but Maryland since 1950 has been consuming land at twice the rate of housing unit growth and triple the rate of population growth so we’re using much larger spaces to live and that has a price even though it’s hard to realize. The result is that communities push farther and farther out, which greatly increases commute times, environmental impact and the public bill for roads, schools, etc. to serve a spreading populace. I’m pretty sure that Jeffery Broadhurst, the architect who designed The Crib, wouldn’t even suggest living in his shelter long-term. He designed it at the request of a potential client in Southern Maryland who wanted to replace an old weekend fishing shack with something better. The economy put that particular job on hold. But the architect — armed with a simple tool that the iPad will never replace, a cocktail napkin – forged ahead to design the shelter as a “kit” house that anyone could purchase for use most anywhere. If IKEA sold tree houses, it might look like this. All the materials needed to build the structure – 8,300 pounds of galvanized steel; 3,000 pounds of polycarbonate, translucent panels; precut, heat-treated poplar slats – fit on a single tractor-trailer. (That’s another “green” feature, Broadhurst said, since subcontractors wouldn’t have to keep burning fuel driving back and forth to deliver materials.) It took three workers from Added Dimensions Inc., a Takoma Park general contracting company, about two and a half weeks to assemble and finish The Crib.
On the grounds of Strathmore, the structure, cantilevered in a hollow between some trees, feels serene even though it’s surrounded by the whoosh of Rockville Pike, a couple of smoke-belching earthmovers creating luxury townhomes nearby and the huge modern concert hall that looms large behind it. The Crib’s downside? For minimalist living, it isn’t cheap. The kit runs from $60,000 up to $125,000 with added amenities. Assembly, foundation and electrical work could run another $40,000 or so. You could easily buy a couple-bedroom townhouse for that. Still, the architect says, the reaction at Strathmore has been positive: “Most people come in and their jaws drop. They don’t expect a finished space.” The most impressive feature of The Crib at Strathmore may not be its look, however, but its feel: It seems larger and more secluded than it is. A rollup garage door forms most of the rear wall, for instance, so when the shelter is open, the room naturally feels larger.
Inside The Crib
The structure made me think that a major key to making smart growth work is better design; that is, finding ways to give homeowners the “sense” of more space and privacy without actually consuming so much space. In fact, when the Maryland Department of Planning met with residents last year before drafting the State Growth Plan known as PlanMaryland, they were a little surprised (and pleasantly so) that residents ranked “community design” as high as they did among Maryland’s 12 Planning Visions. (The General Assembly in 2009 defined community design as “compact, mixed–use, walkable design, consistent with existing community character and located near available or planned transit options, (and) encouraged to ensure efficient use of land and transportation resources.”)
Suburbanites are reluctant to give up their space but, especially as they age, don’t necessarily want to have to maintain so much of it. In short, the thinking that went into designing The Crib should in a broader sense go into designing our communities.
It opens for public viewing today at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda.