Photo credit: Isabelle Gournay , 2001

Property Name: Highfield House
Date Listed: 9/12/2007
Inventory No.: B-1382
Location: Baltimore, Baltimore City

Description: The Highfield House is an outstanding example of International Style architecture totaling 265,800 square feet in 15 stories. The building is a free-standing high-rise slab set on a platform and the main facade faces east. Although the structure has a commanding presence, the siting and design also create a suburban-feeling environment for the residents. Architect Mies van der Rohe applied a unique structural solution by allowing the skin of the building to become an infill between the visible columns and floor beams. The building adopts a very simple outline design: a rectangular 11 bay by 3 bay block. The east and west facades are the long sides of this rectangle, while the north and south facades are its short sides. Although Mies applied the principles of high-rise "skin and bone" design he was known for to the Highfield House, he also made minor departures from previous designs to integrate the structure better with its surroundings. Communal and private spaces are clearly and successfully defined. Mies utilized the existing site conditions, including the topography, to create sheltered courtyard-style recreation spaces for the residents and so that the parking garage could be concealed from Charles Street. To the rear of the structure (west of the building) is a large terrace that overlooks a sunken swimming pool. When viewed in plan, the rear plaza and pool area is a Miesian formal garden. The extension of the ground-level plaza space to the rear of the structure provides continuity to the design of the site and connects the platform of the building with nature. The ground floor terrace is walled in and encloses lawn areas and an open court on three sides. This plaza measures 80' x 100' and includes large planting beds and free-standing walls. In addition, it has a warm, buff color paving and benches that provides seating areas. Both the plaza and the pool deck are constructed of exposed aggregate concrete. Facing Charles Street, each bay of the 15-story east facade is marked with a column that protrudes beyond the glass curtain wall, which Mies designed to demonstrate the plasticity of the concrete. These step back in width as they rise up the facade of the structure towards the roof. With columns on both corners of the facade, and separating all eleven bays, a total of twelve columns are visible on the eastern facade. The principal materials on the facade are the buff-colored brick spandrels underneath each window, the white reinforced concrete piers, and the dark gray tinted glass of the curtain walls set in anodized aluminum frames. The use of the brick panels, combined with the horizontality of the windows, were Mies' concession to better fit the building in with its surroundings. The windows lining the residential floors are made of gray glass and are recessed behind the vertical supports. Each window has three lights: a single light that is 10'5" wide and 4'2" high and two rectangular hopper windows below the single pane. The hopper windows are all of identical size, although only one of each pair can be opened. The windows are encased in anodized aluminum frames. The gray tinting of the windows was intended to reduce the glare and heat entering interiors. It also neutralizes the color of individual tenants' curtains and other window treatments to provide a uniform appearance from the exterior. All of the windows are placed above the brick spandrels. The glass enclosed lobby is two stories in height, three bays wide, and recessed from the main pile above it. These exterior walls are comprised of the same gray-tinted glass, encased in black anodized aluminum as the upper-level residential floors. The structural columns intrude into the lobby space, creating continuous lines of columns. Because they represent truth about the structural nature of the building, these columns are not enclosed or hidden in any manner. The three-part entryway is a revolving door and two side glass doors, also composed of the same glass and anodized aluminum frames. The ground floor is composed of a large paved plaza. Only one-third of the ground level is enclosed; the rest is open with evenly spaced columns and two symmetrical brick stair enclosures to either side of the enclosed lobby. The columns raise the building 20 feet (two stories) above the base platform. The enclosed lobby is recessed and centered under the main block of the structure, with equal amounts of covered terrace to both the north and the south. The lobby floor is terrazzo made up of an aggregate similar to the exterior plaza. The lobby space includes the passenger elevators, lounges and reception areas for the residents. The walls surrounding the elevator core, secretarial desk, manager's office, and mail room are clad in marble.

Significance: The Highfield House apartment building was designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and was constructed by the Chicago-based development company, Metropolitan Structures, Inc. between 1962 and 1964. The property is significant for its association with the residential development of Baltimore in the early 1960s. It is a significant product of a longstanding collaboration between the architect and Herbert Realty and Metropolitan Structures, Inc. Mies' association with the development company began in 1948. It allowed him to fully explore the design possibilities of tall buildings, both commercial and residential, while the real estate developers undertook the risks associated with obtaining funding for land acquisitions and property development. This pattern of speculative development characterizes the 20th century housing market in the United States. Highfield House provided Modern residential space within Baltimore at a time when many city dwellers were moving to new suburban developments beyond the city limits. The design of the space illustrates how Mies integrated the structure into the surrounding community and at the same time provided amenities that emphasized the suburban qualities, such as the garage and the swimming pool, which the contemporary residential market desired. The continued residential use of the building demonstrates the importance of high-rise, large-scale apartment design for the city. Highfield House was constructed as an ideal metropolitan, upper middle class environment that was cosmopolitan, refined, sophisticated, and uncluttered. Highfield House is also significant as an outstanding example of International Style residential architecture in Baltimore City and as the work of a master. Highfield House is one of only two buildings in Baltimore (and Maryland) designed by Mies, one of the masters of Modern Architecture, and his only residential building in the state. Highfield House achieves exceptional significance as one of only two buildings in Maryland designed by master architect Mies van der Rohe in association with Metropolitan Structures, Inc. Mies' design innovations symbolized a new urban residential lifestyle in early-1960s Baltimore.


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