Theses Master's

The World War II Defense Housing Community of Aero Acres: Case Study for the Future Preservation of Historic Planned Suburban Communities

Marks, Elyse Marguerite

Aero Acres is a small suburban neighborhood located in Middle River, Maryland. The Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company constructed the neighborhood in 1941 as affordable working-class housing for the laborers who worked at, and operated from, their aircraft factory, located just beyond the urban fabric of Baltimore. All of the homes in this neighborhood were constructed using a prefabricated artificial building material known as "Cemesto", created by the Celotex Corporation in the 1930's and marketed by the Pierce Foundation as an affordable defense housing option. The product consists of panels of pressed sugar-cane fiber sprayed with a coat of asbestos cement on each side. Each panel was a modular four-by-twelve-foot unit that slid horizontally into a light wooden frame, which made the system cost-effective and construction simple and fast. The houses of Aero Acres were designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and are representative of a very important, but often overlooked, prefabricated typology and present an exceptionally important example of wartime architecture, planning, and construction techniques. Aero Acres stands today as a prime example of one of the only pre-Pearl Harbor defense housing projects remaining in the United States, and is counted among the country's oldest working-class suburbs. Presently, Aero Acres functions in essentially the same way as it did when it was constructed seventy years ago. A large percentage of the original wartime units survive, though altered by their owners in a variety of ways. In most cases, the Cemesto panels are sealed inside the interior and exterior wall siding of other materials. Designating these houses is a challenge where alterations of existing design elements, as well as additions to the original unit, pose problems with respect to traditionally held views of how much integrity this neighborhood retains because these homes have been changed over time. Using Aero Acres as a case study, I will seek to resolve preservation issues dealing with historic integrity in historic suburban communities. In order to retain the integrity of this neighborhood, one must seek to preserve the intended functionality of each housing unit, thus retaining systematic wholeness within the community, through a preservation plan that recognizes the architectural origins of the community in conjunction with their expansion and logical evolution at the hands of the homeowner. Therefore, I am proposing a set of designs for several addition options to existing units, as well as new construction, or infill options, that can encourage a process of sustained evolution that is a marriage of both the original and present-day intentions of the development. These assorted design schemes will present variations that seek to address and anticipate future growth within the neighborhood, while simultaneously functioning harmoniously in conjunction with the significant programmatic and visual elements of the original design.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Prudon, Theodore
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2012