Design masks the immensity of IRS headquarters

URBAN LANDSCAPE

January 13, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

One might never guess that the federal office complex planned near the New Carrollton train station is the largest single government construction project under way in the Baltimore/Washington corridor.

Little about its height, shape or appearance hints that this will be the home of 4,400 federal employees.

That was largely the point behind the design of the Internal Revenue Service's national headquarters, a $176 million complex that will rise on the west side of the New Carrollton Metro/Amtrak station in Prince George's County.

Despite the effort to mitigate its visual impact, the project is a huge undertaking. The 1.2 million-square-foot, three-building headquarters is one of a new breed of "megaplexes" being constructed to consolidate scattered federal offices.

The $126 million Health Care Financing Administration headquarters under construction in Woodlawn, designed to contain nearly 1 million square feet of space, is another example of a headquarters project that will house employees now working in many places.

When the New Carrollton center is complete, the IRS will abandon nearly two dozen other sites.

"It's one of the first major projects where a government agency has considered moving outside the central business district of Washington, away from the government center," said Robert Cioppa, partner-in-charge of designing the project for Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York, the lead architect. "Our approach was to give them a building that was compatible with their image of themselves and compatible with the neighborhood."

The developer is a division of BPT Properties L.P., a joint venture of Bechtel Investments Realty of San Francisco and Park Tower Ltd. of New York. BPT, which is headed by Tom Regan, was selected through a competitive process to build the IRS headquarters on a 30-acre, federally owned parcel.

Other design team members are HNTB Architects and Settles Associates. Turner Construction Corp. is the general contractor. Site work will begin in mid-1994, and the complex is slated for occupancy by late 1997.

The New Carrollton Metro stop is surrounded by a sea of parking, with warehouses, strip shopping centers, office buildings and residences in the distance. West of the station, the federal property slopes uphill to a stand of trees and a residential neighborhood.

Mr. Cioppa said the designers could have proposed one large building that would be 19 or 20 stories tall, or two buildings 13 stories tall. But he said they decided it would be more appropriate to create several smaller buildings.

The design calls for structures that are seven, eight and nine stories tall as well as a parking garage, all next to the New Carrollton station.

The three office buildings will be placed on the site in a gently curving arc that surrounds a landscaped outdoor space accessible to IRS employees. The architects further broke up the apparent mass of each building by using precast stone on the lower levels and glass and metal above.

"The challenge was to break down the scale of the buildings," Mr. Cioppa said. "We're not trying to be the biggest kid on the block. What they were looking for was something with a certain dignity and clarity. They didn't want it to be imposing or foreboding."

City Life Museums

Trustees of the Baltimore City Life Museums voted this week to proceed with construction of a long-awaited, $5.8 million exhibition center on Museum Row near Little Italy.

The four-level structure was designed by Peterson and Brickbauer of Baltimore. It will include the reconstructed cast iron front of the old Fava Fruit Co. building, salvaged from the current site of the Baltimore Convention Center. Inside will be exhibits on the development of Baltimore and related subjects.

Nancy Brennan, the museum's executive director, said the trustees voted to proceed with construction because the board is close to meeting its fund-raising goal, with less than $250,000 still to raise. Construction is expected to begin in late May or early June and be complete by fall 1995, she said.

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