On patron's day, Columbus Center breaks ground

October 13, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

An article in The Sun yesterday mistakenly attributed a comment about the educational role of the planned Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin. The remark was made by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The Inner Harbor's newest attraction will be a scientific extravaganza intended to provide a different learning experience for every visitor who walks through the door.

At its center will be a computerized "brain" that will be able to tell whether visitors have been there before and, if so, welcome them back. After taking information from them, the brain will then tailor a tour based on each person's special interests.


Exactly how it will work is still being developed, but the goal is to find new ways to spark interest in marine science, said Bran Ferren, lead designer of the public exhibits planned for the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration.

"We want to expose people to the world of science, but not in a conventional museum sense," he said. "It will be constantly changing."

The multilevel exhibit space is just one component of the $160 million Columbus Center, for which groundbreaking ceremonies were held yesterday.

Scheduled to open in late 1994 on the north side of Piers 5 and 6 in Baltimore, it will also house the state's Center of Marine Biotechnology, the Center for Marine Archaeology, and a training and development center.

During yesterday's ceremonies, speaker after speaker promised the project would make Maryland a world leader in marine biotechnology and help establish Baltimore as a magnet for the life sciences.

"This is the future," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "One of its most important benefits will be to introduce young people to the excitement and rewards of careers in marine science and technology."

"This is where the action is in the 21st century," agreed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. "It will come up with the new ideas that lead to the new products that lead to the new jobs in pharmaceuticals and environmental cleanup."

"This will solidify the Inner Harbor as an educational experience -- not a tourist experience, but an educational experience," said Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd.

"Soon you will hear people talking about the marine research center in Baltimore with the same pride as they talk about the Cape Canaveral space research center in Florida," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"It may be that Baltimoreans have grown blase about monumental projects in the Inner Harbor, but this is a project that in many ways eclipses any other projects that preceded it," said Walter Sondheim, senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee.

In conjunction with the groundbreaking, the Zeidler Roberts Partnership unveiled its revised design.

In previous plans, the building's east side contained laboratories in a research block clad in metal and glass, and the west side contained public exhibits under an undulating roof made of Fiberglas-reinforced Teflon.

In early versions, the Teflon roof was stretched over an elaborate metal frame, and renderings made it look like a giant mollusk, prompting Mayor Schmoke to dub the center "science on the half shell."

The latest version still has the Teflon roof, but it's no longer stretched over a metal frame. Instead, two layers of Teflon will be attached to four prominent skylights above the exhibit area and connected to the adjacent laboratory block.

"It's been simplified and unified now," said Stanley Heuisler, president of the non-profit group building the center. "It's an extraordinary and evocative piece of architecture that the whole world is going to know and remember."

Beneath the canopy will be seven exhibits: Water, Ecosystems and Marine Environments, Marine Plants and Animals, Information-Based Systems, Scientific Instrumentation and Imagery, Molecular Modeling and Cloning, and The Cell and DNA.

At wharf level will be a separate exhibit on marine archaeology.

The $10 million, 30,000-square-foot exhibit area is expected to draw 400,000 to 500,000 visitors a year, including thousands of students. Rising the equivalent of six stories, the center's presentation techniques will range from displays of live plants and animals to film, video, and computer-based technology such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

Planners yesterday released photos of a model of the exhibit space, showing that the central orientation point will be shaped like a lighthouse and that color-coded exhibit areas will radiate from it.

Mr. Ferren said each exhibit will start by providing a basic overview. As a visitor walks deeper and deeper into each subject area, the information will become more detailed, progressing from "introductory" to "leading-edge research."

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