Young Alumni Win Spot at the Venice Biennale with “Regenerate Fort Carroll”
By Jenny M. Abel
More than 70 years after its construction began in 1847, it was abandoned, having never fulfilled its original purpose. Yet, every year, more than 11 million cars and numerous ships pass the prominent but puzzling site. And although it’s technically off limits to visitors, venturesome souls find ways to overcome the island’s inaccessibility and explore its 3.4 acres—on foot or from kayaks.
Fort Carroll has been the subject of off-and-on debate for years. Situated amidst active shipping lanes at the mouth of the Patapsco River near Baltimore, Md., the island—which never saw major combat—is inhabited today by one of the most diverse bird populations around.
However, the abandoned fort’s reputation as an obsolete relic enshrouded in mystery—and ecological obstacles—may be poised to change, if two University of Virginia School of Architecture alumni have their way.
Sharing an interest in adaptive reuse, Sara A. Harper (BSArch ’11) and Colin P. Curley (BSArch ’11) recently proposed turning Fort Carroll into a gateway ecological park in a design that won Runners Up recognition in Architecture for Humanity’s 2011 Open Architecture Challenge: [Un] Restricted Access. The competition asked architects and designers to “partner with community groups across the world and develop innovative solutions to re-envision closed, abandoned, and decommissioned military sites.”
Harper and Curley’s “Regenerate Fort Carroll” design was among the competition’s 13 finalists, judged based on five criteria: community impact, contextual appropriateness, ecological footprint, economic viability, and design quality. The finalists will be on exhibit at this fall’s Venice Biennale, after which they will travel to locations worldwide.
“This competition was such a great experience, and Sara and I are both very honored to be traveling to Venice at the end of this month to be present for the opening of the exhibition,” said Curley. “We’ll be there to answer questions about our design, as well as to represent the A-school and U.Va.”
Upon graduation, both Harper and Curley received the Sean Steele-Nicholson Award, which will help the pair fund their trip to Venice. The prize honors a 1991 A-school graduate who died tragically less than two months after graduation when his fishing boat sank in the Yukon River as he was exploring Alaska and determining the next steps toward an architecture career.
“I think using the funding in this way really captures the spirit of the award and its namesake,” Harper said. “Just like Sean, we want to take life by the horns, do our best, use the skills we learned at the A-school, and make an impact in the community.”
Indeed, the process through which Harper and Curley had to go to enter Architecture for Humanity’s biannual competition embodies the perseverance, excellence, and enthusiasm honored by the Steele-Nicholson Award. The pair overcame the challenge of working remotely—Harper from Baltimore, Curley from New York—and sacrificed countless hours of sleep.
“We both have full-time jobs, so it wasn’t easy,” conceded Harper. “However, we were prepared by the intensity fostered in our education at the A-school, especially for research.”
Curley said the competition especially showed him the value of the A-school’s interdisciplinary focus.
“In addition to blending my design, historic preservation, and architectural history backgrounds, the competition drew upon an environmental sciences class I took,” he said. “That oceanography course covered problems facing the Chesapeake Bay, and we see ‘Regenerate Fort Carroll’ as a precedent for other projects that would address some of those problems.”
Harper currently works as a research fellow with the A-school, where she is project manager for the Initiative reCOVER program, while Curley is a designer/draftsperson for FXFOWLE Architects. Both serve on the School of Architecture Young Alumni Council (AYAC).
“We truly appreciate our A-school education and are excited to stay involved and give back in any way we can,” Curley said.
To learn more about Harper and Curley’s “Regenerate Fort Carroll: A Gateway Ecological Park” design, visit http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/node/13812.