Save some money: Keep the unique airport frieze


March 31, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Any day now, work crews are likely to start dismantling one of Maryland's finest works of art.

They're not taking it down for repairs, like the East Window of Old St. Paul's Church, or for safety reasons.

They're simply removing it to make way for another work of art -- which may or may not be equal to what's in place now.

The work in question is the 1,200-foot long "graphics frieze" above the main ticket counters at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Featuring repeating logos of all the airlines that carry passengers in and out of BWI, and showing where each is located, the frieze was part of a $64.5 million terminal renovation completed in 1979.

Now the state wants to spend $16.3 million on another round of "enhancements," and the new designers say this award-winning piece has to go. They have budgeted $605,000 in taxpayer funds to replace it with scenic photos of attractions in Maryland and the District of Columbia. They say the airport is an important gateway to the region and the photos will help make that point.

The airport face lift is long overdue. But of all the changes proposed for the main terminal -- including carpeting for the floors, new lights and indoor and outdoor landscaping -- this one makes the least sense. The logos should not be dismantled.

* They're innovative: One of the most colorful features of the main terminal, the logos help unify and enliven the long, curving concourse. They were designed as a continuous band of tetrahedral forms with symbols for the airlines and the piers, applied to angled planes about 5 feet square. Signal flag graphics -- Alpha, Bravo, Charlie -- were used to represent the lettered piers. The other surfaces of the forms are mirrored, so viewers get a "kaleidoscope" effect as they move along the band.

* They're informative. They tell people at a glance where they need to go to check in for their flights. All travelers have to do is find the logo that corresponds to the airline on which they're flying and head for the counter just below. Best of all, passengers can see them before they even get out of their cars. The Maryland Aviation Administration could put up a lot of little signs, but these easy-to-read logos are far more effective.

* They're flexible. It one airline folds or leaves the airport, the state can quickly prepare another set of logos to identify the company that takes its place.

* They celebrate the airline industry without being overly commercial. They also make an impressive statement about the number of carriers that use BWI. It's hard to believe the airlines would like to see them come down.

Finally, removing the logos now would be an affront to a pioneering graphic artist. The frieze was designed by Jane Davis Doggett, founder of Architectural Graphics Associates of Stuart, Fla., and designer of graphics for more than 30 airports. For her efforts at BWI, she received a 1981 Commendation for Design Excellence from the National Endowment for the Arts and from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The lead architects for the terminal renovation, Warren Peterson and Charles Brickbauer, received similar commendations.

Ms. Doggett said she is distressed to hear about the state's plans to take down the frieze. "It makes an American statement, a free enterprise statement," she said. "To me, it has such strength."

It's not too late for officials to reconsider their plans. Bids for the largest single component of the terminal repair project recently came in higher than expected. Construction of a 12,300-square foot observation lounge, designed to display parts of real planes, was estimated at $4.4 million. But initial bids ranged from $6.6 million to $7.8 million, and state officials have had to put it out for bids again.

One way to make up the gap would be to cancel the frieze replacement and use the $600,000 to help complete the observation lounge. That would be a far better use of the money than destroying a unique graphic design that still works as well as ever.

House Tour

Fourteen restored homes in Federal Hill and Fells Point will be open to the public on April 17 from noon to 5 p.m. during the 23rd annual Historic Harbor House Tour, sponsored by The Preservation Society. For ticket information, call 675-6750.

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