This 110,000-square-foot former clothing factory opened this fall as the home of the Baltimore Design School after a $26.85 million overhaul.

Built in 1914, the building had been abandoned for decades and the HBO series The Wire used it as a setting symbolic of post-industrial urban decay.

Adobe Youth Voices, the software company’s philanthropic arm, donated a lab of computers with the full Adobe Creative Suite.

Baltimore architecture firm Ziger/Snead led the redesign.

The architects added this exterior addition that allows for circulation between buildings.

BDS is a unique city public middle and high school that educates students in architecture, graphic design, and fashion.

Galleries throughout the building showcase student work as well as the history of the building.

The interior infrastructure--like pipes and support columns--were left visible as a purposeful teaching tool for the aspiring designers.

“Had we fixed every space and put in ceilings and designed it--it doesn't leave it open to the students' imaginations," says architect Steve Ziger.

Design is interspersed throughout the curriculum as well as the building. Middle-schoolers get a firm grounding in art and design basics before choosing a specialization in architecture, graphic design, or fashion in high school.

The bathroom sinks are custom-made poured concrete fabricated by Baltimore firm Lukeworks. Buttons found in the abandoned building have been inset into the concrete, a reminder that this was once a clothing factory.

Bright pops of color offer a compelling contrast to the industrial details of the building, which were intentionally left visible.

Middle school attendance at BDS is through a public lottery. The school requires a portfolio review in order to be accepted at the high school level.

Design is everywhere: Students eat meals on Beaufurn's orange "Groovy" all weather stacking chairs.

Local designers and universities donated items to the secondary school, including these wire Bertoia Side Chairs courtesy of Morgan State University.

The nearby Maryland Institute College of Art was also pivotal in founding the school and has an ongoing relationship with BDS, donating staff time, resources, and money.

“We often find that educators have a lot of challenges around finding the time to emphasize creativity in the classroom," says Patricia Cogley of Adobe Youth Voices. "The opportunity to work in a school where that’s the underlying philosophy was very exciting for us.”

Just as compelling as the restoration of the building is the design of the financing that allowed this project to happen...

...in a city otherwise struggling to maintain even the basic infrastructure of its public schools...

...the multimillion dollar renovation was made possible through a unique public/private partnership involving a private developer, the BDS school board, and the Baltimore City Public Schools.

Tyler, a ninth-grade architecture major, says he loves “all the light and space--it's not like a new building. There's some history to it.”

A water tower on the top of the building was painted a signature orange and can be seen from many points in the city, serving as a visual beacon for the exciting things happening inside.

A water tower on the top of the building was painted a signature orange and can be seen from many points in the city, serving as a visual beacon for the exciting things happening inside.

Many spaces boast 17 foot tall ceilings and hallways double as galleries for contemporary design.

Design thinking is integrated into the school curriculum.

The building, which sits at a central corner of a transitioning city neighborhood, had been vacant for decades.

Vandals, graffiti artists, and others would sneak inside to see the ghost-like remnants from the former clothing factory: Sewing machines, coffee cups, mountains of buttons, suits, all left behind when the doors shuttered in the 1980s.

Co.Design

How Architects Turned This Former Set From "The Wire" Into A Training Ground For Tomorrow's Designers

Thanks to a major architectural intervention--plus funding from Adobe--a decrepit factory is now a high-tech public design school.

On the lower level of the Baltimore Design School, a city public school located in central Baltimore, there is a blown-up photo affixed to a wall. The black-and-white picture shows the interior of a building in disrepair, with pools of water on the floor. It's a stark reminder of what used to be here: an abandoned factory so decrepit that the HBO series The Wire used the building as a setting symbolic of post-industrial urban decay. But today, with a major architectural intervention--and a grant from Adobe--this building has become a state-of-the-art public school for training future designers.

Baltimore Design School--or BDS--is the first of its kind in the city, a public middle and high school dedicated to students interested in architecture, graphic design, and fashion. The school was founded a few years ago, but its permanent home in a mammoth, 110,000-square-foot former clothing factory only opened this fall after a $26.85 million overhaul.

Photo by © Karl Connolly Photography

Built in 1914, the four-story structure was the machine shop for a global supplier of bottle caps before housing a clothing manufacturer. A private developer purchased the building in the 1980s and, as happened with so many industrial buildings in American cities, it was soon abandoned and left to sit empty for decades. The owner seemingly locked the place up with little notice: Coffee cups were left on tables; clothing and sewing supplies were arranged as if a worker had just stepped away for lunch.

Baltimore architect Steve Ziger, whose firm Ziger/Snead provided design services for the project, believes the renovation teaches students a valuable lesson about the power of design to renew a building and, by extension, a community. “This is a building that was definitely a blight on this neighborhood," says Ziger, who is also a founding board member of the school.

Photo by Ziger Snead

Adobe Youth Voices, the software company’s philanthropic arm, donated a lab of computers with the full Adobe Creative Suite and, in January, will train teachers on incorporating student-driven media into their instruction. This is Adobe's first such partnership with a single school--they usually partner with entire school districts--but the unique nature of BDS and its design-focused curriculum inspired the grant.

“We often find that educators have a lot of challenges around finding the time to emphasize creativity in the classroom," says Patricia Cogley, senior program manager for Adobe Youth Voices. "The opportunity to work in a school where that’s the underlying philosophy was very exciting for us.” The total package, which also includes support from a partnership with the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art, is valued at more than $80,000.

Photo by © Karl Connolly Photography

Students begin their school day in the main hallway with 17-foot-ceilings soaring above their heads. All around them, says Ziger, are lessons in structure, tension, proportion, and compression: Sealed concrete walls, some with old cracks still visible; tall support pillars in the middle of rooms; exposed pipes snaking along the ceilings. Tyler, a ninth-grade architecture major, says that's what he loves about the building. “All the lighting and space--it's not like a new building," he says. "There's some history to it.”

Ziger believes exposing the building's underpinnings in this way will inspire fledgling designers. “Had we fixed every space and put in ceilings and designed it--it doesn't leave it open to the students' imaginations. Being open-ended we thought was more important in this environment.”

This was also more challenging for Ziger and his team. “[This kind of project] takes more time because you have to coordinate everything, because everything's visible. It's actually a more deliberate design by being exposed. If it's concealed, anything goes. That's another lesson for the students.”

Just as compelling as the restoration of the building is the design of the financing that allowed this project to happen. In a city otherwise struggling to maintain even the basic infrastructure of its public schools, the multimillion dollar renovation was made possible by a unique public/private partnership involving a private developer, the BDS school board, and the Baltimore City Public Schools. It was funded through a combination of bonds, tax credits, and loans guaranteed by the school system. At the end of a 20-year lease term, the school system will take over the facility.

Photo by © Karl Connolly Photography

Design is interspersed throughout the curriculum as well as the building. Students take art and design classes every day, and design thinking and creative problem-solving are interwoven into regular classes like math and social studies. Middle-schoolers get a firm grounding in art and design basics before choosing a specialization in architecture, graphic design, or fashion in high school.

On a recent Friday morning, a group of ninth-graders brainstormed with Ziger about design interventions for the student art gallery, a rectangular space on the main level that's still bare of artwork or decoration. One of them, an architecture major named Victorious, said, “We could actually build things.” Exactly.

[Photo by © Karl Connolly Photography]

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13 Comments

  • Anthony Reardon

    Pretty cool! I like how they created a solution from a situation where one may have not seemed possible. The alignment with a private sector focus as well as their philanthropic initiatives is terrific. The reconstitution from gentrified-industrial to knowledge-based is profoundly good. So, even more potential curriculum built in.

  • owl

    Brilliant.
    Love the concept of leaving the walls and ceilings bare. And starting them off young! Absolutely brilliant.

  • mattycandy

    This is super cool. I want to get in. Think they take middle aged wise guys who live on the West Coast?

  • Chandra @Del Mar

    Hooray for Baltimore! This school looks beautiful and more importantly will inspire future generations of designers.

  • MajorDiarrhea

    Those spaces are fantastic; there is a lot to be learned from this for new designs. Way to go.