Penza Bailey Architects, an award-winning Baltimore firm, is honored to have assisted this impactful non-profit organization with the design of the first new bereavement center providing mental health services in an urban community by an African American Non-profit organization. The Roberta’s House Family Grief Support Center, located at 928 E. North Avenue, is a state-of-the-art facility in Baltimore, Maryland, providing a community resource and safe space to promote healing from loss, addressing grief as a public health preventative service. The importance of this organization’s response to the overwhelming needs of so many wonderful Baltimore communities, is evident in the testimonies of the children and families recovering from the pain of personal tragic events.
Roberta’s House was founded in 2007 by Erich March and Annette March-Greir, in memory of their mother, the late Julia Roberta March, who with her husband William C. March co-founded the March Funeral Home. Well known for their compassion and giving spirit, they served thousands of families in their small row-house funeral home, a demonstration of their commitment to providing dignified, affordable services to low income families.
Penza Bailey Architects worked closely with Annette March-Greir, a 2014 CNN Hero of the Year, and the committed staff at Roberta’s House, to develop a Building Program and Schematic Design that would most effectively support the organization’s mission and facilitate the unique array of services offered. The new 22,000 square foot building includes a variety of public and private spaces for family members of all ages.
The building is located in the heart of the East Baltimore Midway community, at the former location of the founding member’s rowhome. The scale of this new building was carefully considered to address the context of the surrounding residential neighborhood, history of the site and zoning challenges. Roberta’s House was designed to be perceived as a Baltimore City mansion used as a new community center, rather than appearing to be a new institutional facility.
Public spaces are located on the main level, and include a welcoming front porch and entrance, a living room, a community theatre, a multi-purpose engagement space and a fun game room. Program counseling and activity spaces continue on the second level, including age-appropriate youth activity rooms, a computer lab, a special sound-insulated expression room, a suite of counseling rooms and family rooms that vary in size and also an exterior terrace space. Staff administrative offices are located on the third level, with volunteer resource areas, a break room and an executive conference room with outdoor terrace and an open tower seating area. Circulation corridors include gathering spaces and showcase memory quilts and custom donor memorials, and the interior is filled with color and light, truly a place of healing and joy for families.
The exterior materials include two-tone brick and painted woodwork, reminiscent of local materials, and a peaked turret on the east corner maintains the corner tower rhythm of the existing streetscape. Plum-colored simulated divided lite windows have the Baltimore bullnose casing, and glazed brick bands of blue, green and plum add a touch of color and express a hint of the personality within. Separated into two sections around the main entry, the two-tone brick and woodwork on the west are reminiscent of local rowhome construction and storefront, while the painted Doric columns, the decorative eave brackets and woodwork detailing, and the round turret on the east corner reflect elements of a Baltimore mansion.
The AE Design Team included Penza Bailey Architects (Architect), Morabito Consultants (Structural Engineer), Johnson Consulting (MEP Engineer) and EBA Engineering (Civil Engineer). The Team was focused on building efficiency and maximizing function and staff use, while also maintaining security and access control with an elevator and stairs. We also worked closely with Douron to continue the colorful impact with furniture, fixtures and equipment.
To help offset the expensive detailing costs required for this building, the AE Team worked with Whiting-Turner Contracting Company on many value engineering efforts throughout design, and also during construction, in order to minimize construction costs as much as possible. Although challenged by COVID-19 supply and safety issues, the $9.4M reinvestment into the community for the building and site is expected to be a catalyst for additional revitalization along North Avenue in Baltimore.
“I am particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to assist the important mission of Roberta’s House. As a community-focused architect, I appreciate the value that thoughtful architecture brings to such impactful organizations, especially when the mission leads the design with light and color bringing a touch of joy to recovering families.” – Laura Thul Penza, AIA, Principal and Founding Member of Penza Bailey Architects
The final stretch of fundraising is well underway for the future roof level program expansion, which includes a light-filled meditation space, outdoor event spaces, with walking path, labyrinth and planting areas designed to aid the healing process. From the rooftop, views stretch over the Greenmount Cemetery to Harborview Tower, and other recognizable landmarks, such as the March Funeral Home just across North Avenue and the Baltimore Cemetery to the east, Lovely Lane Church to the west and City College to the north. A Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, the design and functions of the roof level will further express this building and its important mission as a beacon of hope for Baltimore City.
To donate or volunteer for this impactful organization, or for more information, visit Roberta's House website.
Read Roberta’s House announcement here.