Library for handicapped opening

URBAN LANDSCAPE

December 10, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

Some of its patrons will never see it, but many are expecte to get heavy use out of it.

Maryland's $7.4 million Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will open next week after more than a year of construction.

Library staffers spent this week moving from their old location at 1715 N. Charles St. and will reopen Dec. 17 at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street.

The building is one of the most controversial new structures downtown because it looks so different from the neighboring Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street.

The building's chief feature is a large, hooded window wall that pops out of the two-story base like a sports car's retractable headlight, stuck in the up position. Another unusual feature is a curving metal entrance canopy that looks like part of an airplane wing.

Architects with Ayers Saint Gross explained that many of the library's patrons are partially sighted and can benefit from the natural light filtering through the giant window. Others call it an architectural ego trip that only makes a stylistically chaotic corner even more so. Soon the library's users will learn how well this eccentric design really works.

Four million dollars for landscaping in the Inner Harbor?

That's how much planners of the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration have budgeted for flowers, trees, paving and other site improvements for a 9.5-acre parcel on Piers 5 and 6, where the $164 million research and educational complex is under construction.

The proposed investment makes it one of the largest single landscaping projects ever planned for the Inner Harbor, more than twice the cost of the McKeldin Fountain at Pratt and Light streets.

The work could include a fountain, ice rink and other public amenities.

The Columbus Center office has launched a national competition to select a design team. More than 20 firms, many with international reputations, have submitted credentials.

One contender is SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), a New York firm founded by the noted sculptor, environmentalist and one-time Baltimore resident, James Wines. Another is Oehme, van Sweden and Associates, co-founded by Towson resident Wolfgang Oehme, a pioneer in designing with ornamental grasses.

Also in the running: Sasaki Associates, SWA Group, EDAW, Wallace Roberts & Todd, LDR International and Van Valkenburgh Associates. A decision is expected in February.

"This is the last undeveloped stretch of the Inner Harbor, and it deserves special care," said Stan Heuisler, president of Christopher Columbus Center Development Inc. Elements of the design, he said, may include "special gateways, bridges and even quiet spaces. . . . We want a world-class solution."

Afro-American moving

After decades at the corner of Eutaw Street and Druid Hill Avenue, the Afro-American newspaper will move by year's end to more modern quarters at 2519 N. Charles St., part of the former Chaimson Brokerage complex. The old Afro-American building will be demolished to make way for a 60-unit apartment complex. The newspaper is one of several businesses and organizations contemplating a move to Charles Village. The Maryland Food Committee, for example, is negotiating to relocate to the same block.

Bistro with flair

Sfuzzi (pronounced foo-zee), a Dallas-based chain of Italian restaurants, opened a Baltimore bistro this week at 100 E. Pratt St.

Its interior features Sfuzzi's signature Romanesque design, with a trompe l'oeil painting of architectural ruins, and a frieze featuring familiar objects such as a Baltimore Oriole perched on a baseball, Maryland crabs and clipper ships. Coincidentally, the restaurant is located at the base of a 28-story office tower whose roof-level trusses were designed to evoke the rigging of Baltimore's old clipper ships.

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