Bridge Strikes The Right Note


October 27, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Spanning the inlet between Piers 4 and 5 in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, a temporary wooden footbridge delights the ears as well as the eyes.

When the breeze hits it just right, a visitor can hear the faint tinkling of wind chimes.

It's not easy to find the source of this unexpected sound. But anyone who looks at the tops of the eight vertical posts that frame the span will notice that each holds a tiny metal wind chime. Together, they help turn the simple crossing into a "musical bridge" with a character all its own.

"We thought if people were going to venture out to the end of the piers, they deserved some kind of sensory reward," explained Dianne Rohrer, an associate with Cho, Wilks & Benn, designers of the bridge.

"We hope you'll hear them and you'll stop and pause to contemplate your surroundings. And in doing so, you may become more familiar with other harbor sounds, too."

This month, the designers of the bridge got a reward themselves when the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects named the project the Grand Design Award winner in its annual program honoring excellence in architecture.

After reviewing 63 entries, a three-member jury of New York-based architects chose the $27,000 bridge as the best of show, citing its "invention, clarity and . . . imaginative detailing throughout."

The jury particularly praised the designers, architect Diane Cho and Ms. Rohrer, for putting so much effort into a short-lived project.

"It would have been easy to not have done much, since the project is temporary," jurors Tod Williams, Hugh Hardy and Frances Halsband said in a joint statement. "We hope it TC becomes permanent."

The 10-foot-wide, 133-foot-long bridge was constructed in the spring of 1993 by Barton Malow Co. as part of the Columbus Center, the $160 marine research and exhibition center under construction on Piers 5 and 6.

It is temporary because the Columbus Center's owners intend to build a pivoting bridge that will permit research vessels to float in and out of the inlet between Piers 4 and 5 once the center opens. The existing bridge, built to allow people to move from pier to pier in the meantime, will remain in place until spring.

Ms. Rohrer said she and Ms. Cho wanted to make the bridge memorable, despite its temporary nature and tight budget, because it was the first phase of the Columbus Center that would be used by the public.

Besides installing wind chimes, the designers created other bridge elements to evoke the nautical and marine life that will be showcased in and around the center.

Green metal posts that hold up the rails, for example, were tapered and curved to evoke the marsh grasses that grow along Maryland shores. The taller posts suggest ships' masts. Cables and turnbuckles at the ends of the handrails extend the nautical analogy.

The architects say they hope the bridge can be salvaged and used elsewhere, possibly on the south side of the harbor near Baltimore's Museum of Industry.

Whether that happens or not, the message from the awards jury is clear: If architects can put so much thought into a temporary, low-budget project, with such pleasing results, imagine what they can do with structures made to last.


Honor awards: District Court and Public Safety Complex in Ocean City, by Ayers Saint Gross; Downtown Partnership offices in Baltimore, by Cho, Wilks & Benn; master plan for the Koppers site in Baltimore, by ArchPlan Inc. and Philipsen/Doo Architects; Town Center Pavilion, Reston, Va., by RTKL Associates; and community center expansion, Delta, Pa., by Murphy and Dittenhafer.

Honorable mention: Columbus Center, by Zeidler Roberts Partnership; Francis Scott Key Pavilion at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, by RTKL Associates; Lammot Dupont Chemistry, Biochemistry and Marine Sciences Building at the University of Delaware and Coastal Research and Environmental Geochemistry Center at Solomons, both by Ayers Saint Gross.

Residential awards: Kaplan Sutton & Associates; Studio 3 Architects; Susan Wigley, Charles Richter.

Individual awards: Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, for launching a strategic plan for downtown Baltimore and, posthumously, former city planning director Larry Reich for his "lifelong contribution to the built environment."

Preservation Honor

Orchard Street Church, the historic landmark that was renovated two years ago as headquarters of the Baltimore Urban League, has received a National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The restoration of the 1882 structure at 510 Orchard St., designed by Kelly, Clayton and Mojzisek of Baltimore in conjunction with Morgan State University Professor Anthony Johns, is one of 17 projects selected to receive honor awards today at the trust's annual convention in Boston.

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