Addition to stadium complex could blemish praised design ARCHITECTURE REVIEW


January 27, 1991|By Edward Gunts

The recently issued annual report of the Maryland Stadium Authority is a laudatory document, peppered with newspaper quotations praising the design of the Camden Yards stadium. And rightfully so: Baltimore's old-fashioned ballpark is without question the best building under construction in the city at

present, and a national model for a new, more sensitive approach to stadium design in urban areas.

But even as they were releasing their report, representatives of the stadium authority have been considering a plan that could result in the first real blemish on the stadium since construction began in 1989.

The plan calls for a multistory office building to be added to the south end of the B&O Warehouse, which state officials agreed to save as a backdrop to the 47,000-seat stadium.

This proposed office building would be a curious 11th-hour addition to the project, and it raises questions on a variety of levels, including urban design, architectural design and public policy about the location of state offices -- which the addition would house. Perhaps the most perturbing aspect of this protrusion is that it runs counter to many of the planning principles that led to the stadium design in the first place.

Several years ago, state officials and representatives of the Orioles went through a great deal of deliberation and debate before making a commitment to save and renovate the giant Camden Yards warehouse. Have they now saved it only to end up with a giant wart growing out of one end?

C7 The latest design effort was launched to determine

whether the state could provide 128,000 square feet of extra office space to accommodate the State Highway Administration, agency that has outgrown its current headquarters in Mount Vernon. If the state agency moved to Camden Yards, officials reasoned, its rent payments would help defray the cost of renovating the warehouse in time for opening day of the 1992 baseball season.

The addition is needed, stadium authority officials say, because the south end of the warehouse alone doesn't provide enough space for the highway adminstration, which needs about 220,000 square feet in all. And the north end, overlooking the playing field, is reserved for the Orioles and other baseball-related uses. The most logical way to expand a long narrow building such as the warehouse would be to keep adding in a linear fashion, but that wouldn't satisfy the highway administration because it would make the offices too elongated. The proposed alternative was to widen the warehouse by building an addition to the west.

Preliminary plans for the addition have been designed by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., the lead architect of the stadium itself, and the projected cost is $18.5 million. Bruce Hoffman, the stadium authority's executive director, refused to release a series of renderings that were presented earlier this month to Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, saying the design was still subject to change. But he did make available one drawing that indicates that the building would be a brick-clad structure and may rise as much as eight stories -- the same height as the warehouse itself.

Although the project appears to meet the highway administration's space needs, several other key factors ought to be considered before the project gets final approval. Chief among them is how well the project works in relation to the stadium and the warehouse.

From the beginning, the stadium project has been based on a simple but elegant concept -- to build an open-air ballpark with modern amenities right next to the historic B&O warehouse, which would serve as a powerful backdrop and link with the city.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the stadium plan is that the architects, led by HOK senior vice president Joseph Spear, were able to design a sports facility that is entirely respectful of the huge warehouse. In their plan, the stadium's curving shell never really butts up against the warehouse but is separated from it by a distance of 60 feet -- the width of Eutaw Street. By designing a stadium that comes up to the warehouse but doesn't really touch or block it, the architects established a dialogue between the two supersized building elements that gives both equal weight. They not only coexist but reinforce each other.

The idea of an office addition is problematic because it introduces a third element to the composition that never had one. It also takes away from the most memorable feature of the warehouse -- and the reason it was worth saving in the first place: its sheer uninterrupted expanse.

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