Project Profile: Roberta’s House
Scope of work: Construction of new, 22,000-square-foot bereavement center
BC&E Member companies involved: Excell Concrete Construction, Gray & Son, Mechanical Engineering and Construction Corp., Penza Bailey Architects, Swirnow Structures, the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Pops of color invigorate every room in Roberta’s House. Within the soft neutral spaces, accent walls, furniture, fabrics, flooring, window moldings, railings and other items deliver splashes of teal, plum, chartreuse, salmon and more. It’s a pleasant surprise in a building that focuses on grief.
When Annette March-Grier, founder of Roberta’s House, began planning the Family Grief Support Center on North Avenue, she said this place is about grieving, but she didn’t want it to be dark. She wanted it to be a fun and lively place where people would learn together, according to Laura Penza, Vice President of Architecture Mid-Atlantic for Penza Bailey Architects, a Studio of PRIME AE.
Project team members regularly had to embrace similar, unconventional thinking to deliver the country’s first newly constructed, African American-owned bereavement center providing mental health services. The eventual color palette would use a wide array of colors to create supportive and distinctive environments in the center’s counseling rooms, classrooms, play spaces and public areas.
March-Grier wanted the building to resemble an old Baltimore mansion to bring dignity to the site and emphasize the importance of the center’s work and clients. Working within the nonprofit’s budget, the project team evoked that mansion style in a core segment of the building by adding decorative woodwork and Tuscan columns, plum and green windows with historic Baltimore bullnose casing, deep blue railings, traditional light fixtures, a corner turret, an accent of herringbone brickwork, and bands of glazed blue, green and plum brick.
Elsewhere in the building, the project team delivered striking, modern designs on a budget. Two-tone brick and woodwork combined with altering elevations along one exterior wall echoed the design of Baltimore rowhomes. Value engineering throughout the project – such as the decision to mix masonry and stucco on the exterior – enabled the team to stay in budget without compromising design priorities.
The team also developed a phased construction plan to work with the nonprofit’s fundraising. Roberta’s House, Penza noted, is currently raising money to add a fourth level which will include a meditation room, event space, rooftop gardens, a water feature and a prayer labyrinth.
“It was such an honor to work on this project,” Penza said. “The mission of Roberta’s House is to counsel and empower families and kids. It’s incredible to see them do that work in such a colorful new space.”