Will buyers be lured back to the city by the luxury condos? HarborView 100

ARCHITECTURE REVIEW

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

There's a developer in town who insists that the best way to judge the design of a tall building is by the extent to which a giant gorilla would want to climb to the top.

Such a romantic notion may work for King Kong and Fay Wray, but will it sell condominiums in Baltimore?

That's the question of the hour for the designers and developers of 100 HarborView Drive, the 27-story, $80 million tower that opened this fall just south of Federal Hill.

After nearly a decade of planning and construction, it is finally possible to see how well developers Richard Swirnow and Parkway Holdings Ltd. lived up to their promise of creating a world-class, resort- like community on Baltimore's waterfront.

To be sure, the first residents will render their own verdicts when they move in starting later this month. But from the standpoint of design and construction, this beacon-topped tower is already an unqualified success.

From a distance, it provides solid evidence that a former ship repair yard can be transformed into a new waterfront neighborhood. Close up, it stands as an enduring and durable work of architecture.

Put it all together and this may just be the civic talisman that will finally break the high-rise condo jinx and lure affluent buyers back to the city.

Grande dame

This first tower presented perhaps the most difficult challenge of the six 15- to 20-story towers planned for the 42-acre HarborView site, which will eventually contain up to 1,590 residences.

It had to fit in as part of a larger community, but it also had to stand alone until the other buildings take shape. It had to set a new tone for the area, yet be familiar enough that it could coax conservative buyers out of their present homes.

The design team was headed by Design Collective of Baltimore, with Richard Burns as principal in charge. Other architects included Vlastimil Koubek, Sasaki Associates and Swanke Hayden Connell. M. Paul Friedberg and Partners of New York was the landscape architect.

According to Mr. Burns, the design team chose to make the first tower a "foreground building" that would stand out from the others by virtue of its shape, color and prominent waterfront setting. They also took cues from the "grande dame" apartment houses built in New York during the 1920s and 1930s, such as Graham Court and the Beresford.

"In our research of Baltimore's architecture and urbanization history, we could not find a precedent for a densely juxtaposed series of high-rise residential structures," Mr. Burns explained. "It was our hope that by learning how the New York 'classics' were urbanized and humanized, we could then reinterpret these lessons" for Baltimore.

In many ways, 100 HarborView Drive is to high-rise residential buildings what Oriole Park at Camden Yards is to ballparks -- a new building with a traditional feel and enough nooks and crannies to keep it interesting. Like Camden Yards, too, it makes a positive first impression -- solid, warm, welcoming.

Rising on the easternmost end of a dry dock that juts into the harbor, the 248-unit tower is perpendicular to Key Highway and surrounded on three sides by water. Its main entrance is on the south side, through a porte-cochere created by three large arches.

Three in one

Containing condominiums originally priced from $129,000 to $1.7 million, and 1,000 underground parking spaces, the tower was conceived as three buildings in one. The least expensive "marina" residences are on floors two to 13. The more expensive "skyline" homes occupy floors 14 to 23, and the luxurious penthouses are on floors 24 to 27. The exterior expresses those divisions with a bottom, middle and top articulated by "major" and "minor" cornices, setbacks, urns and other details that help break down the tower's apparent scale.

Materials include sandblasted precast concrete made to look like granite; a light precast concrete made to look like limestone, and a peach-color brick that goes well with the blue-green tint of the windows. If the brick seems unusually light, it's because the architects wanted the building to stand out from future high-rises, whose brick will be more earth-toned.

The building actually consists of an east tower and a west tower, each with its own elevator banks. The arrangement results in fewer residences per elevator lobby and more privacy for occupants. The division is expressed on the north and south sides by a vertical line of bay windows above the center arch in the porte cochere. Atop the easternmost tower is the building's three-story, eight-sided beacon, which turns the building into a lighthouse when it's lighted from within at night.

At wharf level, the building's three dimensionality is readily apparent. The rusticated base, in particular, gives it a sense of permanence and solidity,

Success on the south side

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