Today I was bored and looking for a read, anything . I rifled through the mail and found nothing interesting to look at. More bills and promotions, Ad nauseam. In desperation, I picked up a University of Maryland Health flyer and turned the front pages and immediately I spotted what looked at an architect’s rendering of an extremely modern “ progressive architecture centerfold” building , and I learned it was to be the new county health facility slated to be built in 2023-2025 which I guess is right now! Horrors not here in historic Talbot county please!
Digesting more of the picture, I went into the next level shock imagining that new 6 story plate glass mid rise building is to be placed out on route fifty at the entry gateway to Easton on the old Longwoods road near the community center, but seriously, literally in the middle of a field. Two things struck me right away. In a green field a six story structure. Crazy , inappropriate. Why isn’t this in town! Who designed this?
Point One , this proposed building is both trendy , rather obnoxious and ugly , but most importantly horribly inappropriate. I ask what a trendy suburban modern structure doing out in the middle of a farm field. I thought Maryland was smarter than this , but I remembered this is a county site, not city. I thought that we as a state were focused on “smart growth” , That means we steer big buildings and new growth into towns, not out in green fields. We’ve made these similar mistakes in other counties and we are supposed to Know better.
Smart growth happens inside towns not outside of them. We keep green fields green because we like agriculture and we respect it. The big idea here is to use the existing town infrastructure already in place, build town density and not sprawl. . Also the need for transportation to and from that facility is reduced for those in town and trips to stores can be combined. Placing facilities like this is a green field is extremely bad planning, unsustainable, and energy intensive. . If state money in involved it this project should be shelved for violating the biggest guiding principle of smart growth, placement. It’s in the wrong place. Obviously looking at the pathology of this project, a county approval trumped city requests. They found a site that the city wouldn’t or couldn’t provide.
Second point: when all Is said and done , this building looks like it slipped off the shelf of a psychologist office, a classic case of multiple personality disorder, playing to modern architecture critics , designs like this are trendy but hold no lasting value.
The Talbot community center just next door is least an attempt at looking like it belongs to Talbot county architectural heritage , it’s looks like a warehouse or sorts albeit a bit out of place also. A community center outside of town ? Oh well. The community center building plays down the dazzle factor and attempts to link to county historical lineage as a commercial “packing house “.
This new medical building does nothing of the sort. It’s arrogant and it’s huge. And it sits right on a gateway site of the city of Easton. All six plus stories of it. I’ll bet the city is angry about this and they should be. The county should have respected the gateway entry site but ignored it.
But this building takes the prize for fish out of water, and As much as I know how important a hospital is to a community ( we all know the value of that investment in our county) , I am shocked to see how much this does not look like Talbot county and how much it does look like suburban PG county. In fact it may have already been built somewhere else and did in fact slip Off the shelf. It’s a bad franchise design at best.
My main point here is to say that nowhere in the process did it occur to the university of Maryland architects or the county commissioners that approved the design that this structure needed to respond to its site and context. It’s in a field!. Are we now a suburban extension of the Washington metropolitan area? Did they think we’d be impressed by modern imagery ? Not really.
Finding the right context for a buildings new image , That’s job one for an architect. It’s important as the building use which should also be legible ( readable) from the exterior.
If this building yells anything it’s saying “ I’m something modern and new” it will soon be dated and horribly out of place. Soon modern building becomes old and dated. Their visual language becomes trite and outdated and suddenly new looks out of place and old, like an ugly 1950’s sweater. It’s almost funny that it even was imagined to be interesting.
Unfortunately, we locals will be stuck looking at a hyperactive modern building out of place for decades to come because an arrogant corporate firm and medical corporation wanted to make a bold and heroic statement. Enough of this ! We demand better. This is hugely Inappropriate!
A bigger problem exists that allowed this to happen. The county has no one with architectural experience to point out the failings of any building design. If someone ( maybe a retiree) could help them through these growing pains, we’d all be better off. We wouldn’t get to where we are now without someone raising a question.
Linkage to our county history is the one thing that makes us special and it’s our distinct competitive advantage. When we throw it to the wind and don’t demand others respect that history, we are lessening our worth. We are corrupting our future..
The owners , university of Md corporations also know better too , but are playing the public using some off the shelf franchise design . No one asked for better. The new emergency care facility in Cambridge at least tries to link the warehouse history of Cambridge to their new facility, Cambridge demanded it in their zoning review but not Talbot. The Cambridge facility looks almost like it belongs. The city knew enough to ask for better. What was the linkage to Talbot , it was not even considered. No one asked or cared. That’s Talbot’s fault.
This building really could have been more. It’s a terribly disappointing performance and and horrible misstep. Building placement and exterior imagery are everything to a rural community. And this six story building ( tallest in county ) fails the test miserably and will scream as an ugly suburban institution for decades , a real shame. It could have been more….. and still could actually. It’s not built yet.
Jay Corvan is a local architect and preservationist from Trappe, Maryland.