Baltimore's guardian of architecture to speak

URBAN LANDSCAPE

September 30, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

She has never curried favor with the powers that be.

She enjoys no financial backing from foreign investors.

And by no means is hers a household name.

Yet she has probably had more influence on the changing face of Baltimore than most developers in town, public or private. And when she speaks about preservation and urban design issues, she carries more weight than most of the region's planning and housing officials.

She is Phoebe B. Stanton, professor emeritus of architecture and art history of the Johns Hopkins University and unofficial guardian of the city's built heritage.

on On Tuesday, Dr. Stanton will share her views about Baltimore's growth and development when she delivers the sixth annual Cochran lecture at the Maryland Historical Society. The title of her talk is dauntingly comprehensive -- "Baltimore: The TC Past, the Present and the Future."

"I know Baltimore and I love it," intones this redoubtable historian and critic, a civic treasure at age 79. "I want to save its character, if possible.

"That's why I'm giving this lecture."

It will be like old times for Dr. Stanton, who taught 500 Hopkins students a semester in her popular survey courses on art and architecture from 1965 to 1985. She is also known to many as the first architecture critic at The Baltimore Sun, if one doesn't count H. L. Mencken. She wrote in the 1960s and 1970s when few newspapers had anyone addressing the subject.

Previous speakers in the series, named after the late architect Alexander Cochran, have included British author Charles Jencks, Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and Philadelphia planner Edmund Bacon. The Baltimore Architecture Foundation, which sponsors the event, wanted to shift the focus back to Baltimore this year. Dr. Stanton was an ideal choice, because she not only knows every block of the city but cares deeply about its future -- and can inspire others to care as well.

Though she stopped teaching at Hopkins eight years ago, Dr. Stanton never really retired or even slowed down. Working from an office at the Peabody Library, one of her favorite buildings, she just finished a two-volume book on father-and-son architects Augustus Charles Pugin and Augustus Welby Pugin for Cambridge University Press. She is about to start writing a book about 19th century architectural theoretician William Henry Leeds.

Since the early 1970s, she has been a member of Baltimore's two blue-ribbon design panels: the Architectural Review Board, which scrutinizes plans for new buildings downtown, and the Design Advisory Panel, which reviews plans for buildings elsewhere in the city.

Dr. Stanton doesn't want to reveal what she'll discuss on Tuesday, but fireworks can be expected. At the design panel meetings, she can be vociferous when she doesn't like a design, or effusive with praise when she does.

Architects seem to dread nothing so much as when she calls them on a faulty line of reasoning. But the underlying goal of her critiques is to improve the work presented.

A preservationist before the cause had a name, Dr. Stanton has said that she believes the city should put a moratorium on the demolition of buildings that are more than 100 years old, because so many have been razed already. She is no fan of Postmodernism, the design movement in which architects reinterpret styles of the past, often capriciously. She would like to see more affordable housing built in the suburbs as well as the city.

Through her critical writings and participation in the review sessions, under three mayors, Dr. Stanton has become a design conscience for the Baltimore area, a passionate advocate for better planning and design at a time when too few even think about such issues.

The Cochran lecture is a chance to see this remarkable woman in action, to hear her prescription for Baltimore, and to catch her infectious enthusiasm.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m. at 201 W. Monument St., the lecture costs $10 for the general public and $5 for members of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation. For information, call 625-2587.

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