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Murphy & Dittenhafer Restores Historic Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (known locally as Old St. Paul’s), a historic landmark on the 200 block of North Charles Street in Baltimore, is the city’s oldest church structure. It was designed by renowned architect Richard Upjohn and constructed in 1856. Its historical significance is underscored by the prominent people who were members of the parish, including Samuel Chase, John Eager Howard, Thomas Johnson, and Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer.

Renovations in 1902 included painting the sanctuary in three shades of gray. Later updates had all wall, column, and ceiling surfaces covered in beige, completely obscuring the original architectural intentions and color scheme. Over the years, the plaster ornamentation deteriorated from neglect and moisture.

(BEFORE)

(BEFORE)

For over a decade, the congregation at Old St. Paul’s sat, uninspired, in the dimly-lit sanctuary, wanting to restore the church so it could more appropriately accommodate their worship and inspire attendees. The effort was derailed by indecision, false starts, and disagreements among the congregation on how best to proceed.

Eventually, Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects got involved and provided the leadership and design expertise to guide the project. They provided oversight for the repair and restoration to the historic sanctuary, entry, and auxiliary spaces originally constructed in 1856.

Murphy & Dittenhafer conducted forums with the church’s stakeholders, with their starting point incorporating a thorough analysis and understanding of the building’s history.

In order to gain access to the sixty-foot high sanctuary ceilings, walls, and nave components for repair and restoration, Murphy & Dittenhafer planned and facilitated the installation of a complex scaffolding system five stories high with three platforms at different heights.

They comprehensively repaired and restored deteriorated plaster, developed a cohesive paint palette that was historically accurate, and relit the sanctuary with new lighting integrated into the historic timber structure and interior plaster cornices and coves. The overall effect was warm and bright, and the project completely transformed the feeling of the sanctuary.

One of the key features of the restored Old St. Paul’s is the “sky blue” wood sanctuary ceiling painted with gold stars. Upjohn’s original 1856 design referenced gold stars painted onto the pitched, gabled roof nave ceiling. Forensic evidence of the stars in Old St. John’s was inconclusive, but the congregation’s response to incorporating the stars was overwhelmingly positive and generated additional funding for the project. Murphy & Dittenhafer researched Upjohn’s use of ceiling star designs in other churches and developed a pattern of stylized, six-sided, gold painted stars.

The restoration has re-energized and united an urban congregation charged with the living stewardship of a landmark structure. The space has been updated in a way that seamlessly merges history and modern congregational needs. It was done with Murphy & Dittenhafer’s trademark sensitivty, and was completed on time and within a very modest budget of only $265,000.

The project was recognized in fall 2014 with design awards from The American Institute of Architects in both the Central Pennsylvania and Baltimore chapters.

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Connecting People to the River and Its History

The Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area’s offices are located at the John & Kathryn Zimmerman Center for Heritage, a historic stone home in Long Level, York County, overlooking the Susquehanna River. The organization connects people to the river and its history through exhibits, tours, and other visitor experiences, wayfinding programs, and preservation projects.

The SGHA launched an effort to enhance the Zimmerman Center in 2011. Their plans included major improvements to their waterfront site and historic building, including a water trail landing with floating dock and canoe/kayak launch, a waterfront pavilion and boardwalk, a rain garden for stormwater management, pedestrian pathways, driveway and parking improvements, interpretive displays and signage, and native landscaping.

One of the main project goals was to enhance accessibility to the Zimmerman Center. The SGHA commissioned Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects for the architectural design and construction administration of the new 600-square foot waterfront pavillion and accessibility enhancements that would connect the facilities on their property so that all visitors would be able to access them.

Murphy & Dittenhafer approached the project with their signature sensitivity, making the river and waterfront the star, with the architecture playing a supporting role. Their minimalist design approach brought a seamless elegance to the finished project. The river is visible through the pavilion from within and at a distance, and construction materials included the same native fieldstone as the low pathway walls across the road. Benches and interpretive educational panels are built in. The pavilion is part of the panoramic landscape, complementing it so gracefully that it seems as if it has always been there.

Accessibility enhancements included the design and construction of a pedestrian access pathway system from the Zimmerman Center building to the new waterside pavilion. The steep terrain - an 18-foot elevation change - made access difficult for pedestrians, and nearly impossible for those with mobility issues, to make their way around the property. Thanks to Murphy & Dittenhafer’s pathway system design, all visitors can now access the new pavilion, new floating docks, canoe and kayak landing areas, waterside nature plant gardens, and historical displays.

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Aesthetically Elegant and Environmentally Responsible: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

The historic buildings of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts sit on the edge of town in Hagerstown, Maryland, in an idyllic, park-like setting. The facility boasts a new 3,200 square-foot atrium that allows for year-round use of a previously underutilized space and complements the original building by gracefully marrying the old and the new.

The former exterior courtyard was located between gallery wings and was unusable in colder months and bad weather. The museum’s trustees set out to repurpose the space so that it could be utilized year-round for special events and programming.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects was selected to design the new space, and the result is an elegant $1.3 million addition to the museum campus: a skylit courtyard enclosure that filters in natural daylight.

The structure is independent of the original historic gallery museum building, which incorporated an easement through the Maryland Historic Trust. In response, Murphy & Dittenhafer designed thoughtfully-located structural supports and a pyramidal skylight system over the entire courtyard. The brick walls of the original 1930s gallery wings serve as the perimeter walls for the interior courtyard space.

Murphy & Dittenhafer incorporated numerous high-performance and energy efficiency features into the contemporary design of the new courtyard enclosure, including LED lighting, sustainable mechanical systems, and a brick floor radiant heating system. The space is not only aesthetically elegant, but also environmentally responsible, and equipped to be responsive to ensure patron comfort and usage throughout changing times of day and season.

“The architectural design has provided the museum with a larger-than-life ‘good business’ investment on which they continue to capitalize” says Frank Dittenhafer. “The design has contributed directly to the successful rebranding of the entire museum from a respected but low-profile institution to that of a progressive regional venue that is on the move.”

The project is directly responsible for increased, consistent year-round attendance at the museum and expanded programming, including music, lectures, and dance, in addition to the visual arts. The prismatic forms of the glass skylight system and photos of the new courtyard enclosure are featured prominently in the museum’s communications and publications. The museum has seen marked growth in new membership and the courtyard space is regularly rented for public and private functions.

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