Bathhouse adds note of distinction

URBAN LANDSCAPE

June 03, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

A suburban swimming pool is not a setting where one expects to find distinctive architecture. Poolside changing facilities can be the most mundane of structures.

But a new bathhouse in Anne Arundel County is noteworthy because of the famous architect who designed it and the larger development of which it is a part.

The Community of Russett's bathhouse, a $500,000 structure that will be dedicated Saturday, is one of the few buildings in Maryland designed by internationally acclaimed architect Charles W. Moore.

Mr. Moore, 67, received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1991. He has a reputation for creating buildings imbued with a sense of whimsy and delight. His works include the Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans, Kresge College in Santa Cruz, Calif., Sea Ranch in northern California, and the Beverly Hills Civic Center.

The bathhouse is the first in a series of public buildings that Mr. Moore's Austin, Texas, office, Moore-Andersson Architects, has been commissioned to design for Russett in collaboration with Grimm and Parker of Calverton.

Located just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at Route 198, the 2-year-old community is already home to 350 households -- slightly more than a 10th of the 3,000 families expected to live there by the late 1990s.

The other public buildings include a community center, health club, day care center and a branch library that will be part of Anne Arundel County's system. They will frame a courtyard that will serve as the town square for the 613-acre community.

Russett's initial developer, Curtis F. Peterson, hired Mr. Moore and Grimm and Parker as part of a plan to create architecturally distinctive public buildings for the community, where homes range in price from $80,000 to more than $300,000. His goal was to put a stamp of design refinement on the project and set it apart from its competitors in the Odenton-Crofton area.

Mr. Moore said he agreed to work for Russett because Mr. Peterson was an old friend. He added that Russett was one of the first residential communities on which he had worked since he and others designed Sea Ranch starting in the 1960s.

He asked Grimm and Parker to serve as associate architect because principal Stephen Parker is a former student.

Since Mr. Peterson retired more than a year ago, the development team has been headed by Lovell Land Inc. and Coscan/Adler Limited Partnership. For them, and the residents of Russett, completion of the bathhouse is a milestone.

"It's a first step in this complex of buildings that are going to make a place, and it's a place that Charles Moore created," Mr. Parker said. "It's unusual that a housing project would have the forethought to create a coherent town center. More often than not, you have the community center here and the bathhouse over there and the day care center somewhere else."

The long, narrow building that will be dedicated this weekend is a high-ceilinged structure, more spacious and woodsy than most bathhouses. The men's and women's locker rooms are on either end. In the middle is a large space that will eventually be used as a recreational area; it now serves as a temporary marketing center for prospective buyers.

Cedar is the predominant material inside and outside the building, which visually terminates one end of a 25-meter pool. Twin cedar arbors run the length of the pool and will eventually be covered with wisteria.

From inside the marketing center, one can look across the pool and see the land set aside for the community center, library, day care center and health club. The community center is likely to get under way next, in about two years. All are likely to share certain architectural features, including cedar shingles, pitched roofs, ornamental brackets, and high ceilings.

Without other Moore buildings to provide a context, it may be difficult for visitors to understand why the bathhouse looks the way it does, with its large windows and wide eaves.

But the absence of the companion buildings is not a significant drawback at this early stage in the community's development. What does matter is that the builders set high standards, hired a first-rate design team, and remain committed to carrying out its vision.

If all goes according to plan, Russett residents will soon have the benefit of even more of Mr. Moore's work.

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