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Structurally sound -- Bmore area sculptor melds architecture and art

Architect/sculptor Adam Scott Cook - Arianne Teeple
Architect/sculptor Adam Scott Cook - Arianne Teeple

Suffice it to say that 28-year-old Adam Scott Cook's life is a little unorthodox. Despite having little academic training in architecture, he's an intern architect working on the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences being built at Harbor East. But as Cook will tell you, that's just his 9-to-5 job. His other passion is working as a sculptor.

"My architecture work is more taking someone else's design and trying to make it constructible," Cook says. "With my artwork, there's only me."

Born in Baltimore, Cook was raised in Parkville. His art teacher grandfather, Mel Filler, taught him how to draw in one-point perspective when Cook was around five years old.

"That's basically the first drawing class at architecture school," says Cook.

Drawing was just the beginning for Cook who has always been interested in the arts, an interest perhaps spurred by several family members who paint, sculpt or craft.

"As far as I can remember, I've either been drawing, painting or even writing," says Cook. "I've always had to put my ideas down in some form, in some type of medium. I walk with a Moleskine pretty much everywhere I go."

Architect school or bust?

Inspired by architects like Santiago Calatrava, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Gehry, Cook says he began working for Peter Fillat Architects after graduating from Bel Air's John Carroll School in 2000. While working fulltime, he attended the University of Maryland for two years. Soon, however, life took a turn.

"I didn't get in to architecture school at the University of Maryland," Cook says, adding that the rejection played an important role in his life.

"I didn't fail out or get bad grades; I didn't get accepted," he explains. "I think it worked as a setback to begin with. I didn't know where I'd go from there. Now, I see it as a blessing in disguise. Had I gotten in, I probably would not have become an artist. I like that I'm different from other people."

Cook says he continued to work at architecture firms, like Architectural Design Works in Towson, where he says he learned the ins and outs of architecture. In 2003, he signed up to study graphic design at Towson University, but realized a future in a profession that emphasized communicating ideas through striking images could be problematic. Cook is colorblind.

"A lot of my artwork is very muted," Cook says.

Art meets architecture

Cook signed up for sculpture classes at Towson after a friend convinced him to do so. In 2007, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Sculpture with Honors.

"He's really trying to hammer out a unique vision," says Al Zaruba, who taught Cook at Towson and now teaches sculptural form at the Maryland Institute College of Art. "He's really quite truly creative in a very refreshing way."

"I see sculpture as non-functional architecture," he says.

Cook creates most of his sculptures using salvaged building materials like steel, though he declines to describe his work as found art. Whatever he calls it, Cook can't call it lightweight. Visitors who step into his backyard can't miss the massive 2,000-pound steel sculpture made of light fixtures that previously graced the walls of Victor's Cafe, the waterfront restaurant once located on Lancaster Street before being torn down to make way for further Harbor East development. In his bedroom is another weighty work, a 300-pound sculpture made with steel ball bearings.

"My friends hate me, anytime I have to move I call them," he laughs

Cook might see something random in the newspaper or on television that sparks a creative idea for a sculpture. That's usually followed by a hand sketch, which he transfers to a software program that renders it as two-dimensional cut-outs on which to base his metalwork in the shop.

"It's methodic metal working," he says.

According to Cook, his architectural experience influences his art work, and vice-versa. While his artistic interests helps him think creatively when it comes to architecture, the latter helps his art work stay organized.

"You take a creative idea and think of how you're going to construct it," says Cook.

Inside his house, Cook's dining room features a square table that could easily seat a dozen people. Cook says the tabletop served as a wood divider from the new Legg Mason Building on Pratt Street that he ended up mounting on four legs. (The material was being thrown away due to dimensional conflicts.)

On a recent Saturday, Cook showed off the basement workshop in his Parkville home where hel builds his sculpture. Neatly arranged power tools lined the shelves, while a wall of heavy industrial plastic curtains surround his workbench.

Building a double life

In 2008, Cook was awarded his first commission, a steel-framed, woven-metal screened spiral sculpture that weighs roughly 700 pounds and will grace the front of the Atwood Professional Center in Bel Air. He's hoping to begin work on the project this summer.

According to Carol Deibel, director of planning and community development for the town of Bel Air, large commercial buildings in Bel Air must set aside one percent of their construction cost for public art.

"I think it's an interesting sculpture," she says of Cook's design. "We felt it's a really nice addition, an attractive one to the complex itself."

Cook says he enjoys the work of local artists like Rodney Carroll, the Baltimore-based sculptor who did the massive Firebird sculpture in front of the Meyerhoff Symphony Center.

"Baltimore is such a haven for artists," Cook says. "I try to dive in to Baltimore as much as I can."

While his artistic side pushes him to establish himself as an artist locally, Cook's architectural side has  him busily pursuing goals at his day job. In 2005, he joined Beatty, Harvey, Coco Architects LLP, the firm that does most of the work in Harbor East. He worked as an intern architect on The Vue Condominiums, the Hilton Homewood Suites, the new Legg Mason Building and designed the hot red Art Deco-inspired marquis of the Landmark Theatres.

"I want to make buildings more like art than architecture," he admits.

To become a full-fledged registered architect, however, Cook needs to pass the Maryland Board of Architects exam. He's hoping to log the required work hours and pass the exam by the age of 30.

"I've learned everything on the fly," Cook says. "I'm about two years from being registered."

It's one more thing on his to-do list.

Got a comment? Let us know what you think, or introduce us to one of Baltimore's little known artists, on Twitter, Facebook or via email! And, read more about Baltimore's arts and culture scene.

Sarah Richards is an award-winning Canadian writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire Magazine and The Economist. She lives in Butchers Hill.

Captions:  Photos of architect and sculptor Adam Scott Cook by Arianne Teeple

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