The winners of the Baltimore Carbon Challenge, a home design competition in which a host of mostly local architectural teams submitted plans for a neighborhood-revitalizing row house with a minimal carbon footprint, were announced last month at an awards ceremony in Charm City. I would have reported on it earlier but I'm just learning about it now, Hon.

Although it would have been a nice touch, painted window screens and white marble steps were apparently not among the design requirements outlined by competition hosts, APA – The Engineered Wood Association and the U.S. Forest Service’s national research laboratory, the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Rather, the competition, one that “challenged architects to rethink their perceptions of how construction materials impact the environment,” revolved chiefly around curb appeal, cost-effectiveness, and, of course, a “global warming potential score” based on a scientific life-cycle assessment. Per competition rules, estimated construction costs of the submitted home designs were to fall between $180,000 and $220,000 while their layouts had to comfortably accommodate three working adults living together as roommates.

And given the very nature of the challenge, it was mandatory that entrants design their homes with wood on the brain: For each submitted design, wood was required to serve as the primary structural component of at least two major structural systems in the home (flooring, walls, etc.) "The use of wood products continues to benefit the environment by storing carbon long after a building has been constructed, and helps sustain a critical source of jobs in rural America. This project could be a blueprint for developing communities in cities across America," explained Harris Sherman, USDA Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment/Forest Service honcho, in a news release.

Perhaps more interesting than the "wood is good!" aspect of the competition, were the site-specific requirements that entrants had to adhere to in their submissions. Required to meet Transform Baltimore zoning requirements, the proposed designs were specifically geared for a vacant lot on the 1500 block of Bethel St. in Oliver, a notoriously blighted-but-on-the-rebound neighborhood in East Baltimore that played a starring role in HBO’s “The Wire” and has, more recently, been the center of some serious community-based rebuilding, rehabilitation, and revitalization efforts including Come Home Baltimore and Operation Oliver. The lot itself is opposite another vacant parcel that's since been reclaimed as a green space-centric Power in Dirt site.

The Baltimore Carbon Challenge, held in partnership with the City of Baltimore and AIA Baltimore, is actually just a small piece of a larger ongoing initiative headed by the Forest Service called the Baltimore Wood Project.

Once again, Sherman explains the almighty power of wood:

The Carbon Challenge is part of the Forest Service’s ongoing effort to help the City of Baltimore rebuild, restore, and revitalize its distressed neighborhoods using wood – an abundant, renewable resource. We’re working with Baltimore and a number of local partners to showcase ways in which the city and its residents can use undervalued wood resources in building construction and in green infrastructure for stormwater management.
Walking away with $5,000, the Grand Prize Design winner of the Baltimore Carbon Challenge was Phillip Jones of Baltimore-based firm Cho Benn Holback + Associates. Naturally, his 2,060-square-foot row house design boasts an extensive laundry list of sustainable features: solar thermal collectors, extensive passive daylighting, a green roof, a 300-gallon rainwater harvesting system, and super-efficient rammed-earth construction with hydronic radiant floor heating. 

Also, in fine Baltimorean tradition, there’s one hell of a roof deck.

Wood geeks should check out Jones’ complete submission (PDF) where all the wood-based features — from the cedar rainscreen cladding to the front stoop — are detailed. Both the mass and wood frame walls boast insulating values of R36.

The overall second place winner of the Baltimore Carbon Challenge was Alexander Dzurec of autotroph while the Best Use of Wood Products prize went to Chris Melander and Ross Smith of RTKL Associates Inc. Top honors in the curb appeal department went to Randy M. Sovich and Jojo Duah of RM Sovich Architecture. And beyond the land of lake trout and Berger Cookies, the APA and FPL teamed up with a local Habitat for Humanity Chapter to hold a simultaneous Carbon Challenge in Providence, R.I. A lovely wood-framed, photovoltaic-equipped abode dubbed The Little Green Rhody took top spot in that challenge.

A combined total of 144 design teams entered the Carbon Challenges in Baltimore and Providence. Previously, a Carbon Challenge was held in Florida in 2011.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Reimagining the row house: The Baltimore Carbon Challenge winners
The U.S. Forest Service co-hosts a home design competition highlighting wood building products while also aiding an on-the-mend Baltimore neighborhood.