New museum's entrance has 'growth' potential

March 27, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

A design is growing for the Baltimore Children's Museum, and it promises to delight kids of all ages.

The Growing Building is one of designer James Wines' early concepts for the entrance to the $30 million museum, which will be constructed inside the former Brokerage shopping complex at 34 Market Place.

The building would grow in two basic ways:

First, it would grow out of the present row of storefronts along Market Place, seemingly peeling away to form a freestanding wall that curls in on itself.

Second, the individual storefronts along this peeling wall would grow from small to large. Starting in the middle of Market Place, the buildings would appear as miniature, dollhouse-sized structures that double as building blocks or planters. They would grow progressively bigger until they are the size of the existing storefronts to which they're attached.

This surreal spiral of storefronts would be a powerful billboard for the museum, drawing visitors like a three-dimensional yellow brick road. Shrunk to kid size, the storefronts would become frames for outdoor exhibits, hands-on displays, and publicity panels for the museum.

The Growing Building is one of several concepts under study for the museum entrance. Board members say it has not been reviewed. But it is easy to see what an ideal symbol it could be for a children's museum.

By growing out of the larger complex, the curving wall signals that the museum is a place for people of all ages to grow and use their imaginations. Young visitors would start at the lowest point and move along the wall until they find a storefront with an entrance the right size for them.

The Growing Building grows in other ways as well. It grows out of previous projects by Mr. Wines, such as the Peeling Building in Richmond, whose brick facade visually peels away from the shell. And it grows out of the spirit of the museum, conceived as a place of learning and discovery.

One problem is that the design does not do enough to use, or obscure, the Bennigan's restaurant building in the middle of Market Place. That misfit was constructed in the 1980s and has no historical value. As planners firm up their designs, they need to decide whether they want to make the Bennigan's structure part of the museum or build something more distinctive. (Perhaps the Growing Building could swell to enormous proportions and engulf it.)

The spiraling storefronts would also require a high degree of custom craftsmanship, since no manufacturer makes bricks and windows in so many different sizes.

For now, though, the Growing Building is a wonderful starting point for the Children's Museum.

Mr. Wines has come up with dozens of clever designs over the years. For Baltimore, where he grew up, this could be one of his best.

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