Power Plant chimney proposal wins review board's acclaim

June 07, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Developer David Cordish's proposal to remove the four smokestacks atop Baltimore's Power Plant yesterday sailed through Baltimore's design review process.

While stopping short of giving him permission to dismantle the stacks, members of the city's Architectural Review Board indicated that they support his logic and are intrigued by his plans for the city-owned landmark.

M. Jay Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., said he and other city officials would have to review the panels' comments before making final decisions on removing the smokestacks. Brodie indicated, however, that he believes the developer is headed in a promising direction.

"It's pretty good," he said. "It was very imaginatively done. Once you don't have the smokestacks, you don't have to put back something that is smokestacklike. You just have to have some element that is fun and visible."

'Memory' preservation

During an hourlong presentation, Cordish and his architects outlined their proposal for removing the stacks and replacing them above the Power Plant's roofline with see-through metal structures intended to preserve the "memory" of the existing ones but not the actual appearance.

The developer said the existing 200-foot-tall stacks are structurally unsound and pose a deterrent to the tenants he wants to bring to the Inner Harbor as part of his $30 million urban entertainment center. The project is to be completed by late 1997.

Cordish said he wants to remove the stacks to free the space inside. He and architect Richard Burns of Design Collective in Baltimore showed drawings of seven possible designs for lightweight steel structures, rising above the roofline in the approximate shape of the old stacks.

The proposed replacements ranged from simple hollow cylinders more ornate objects that recall the cupolas atop Camden Station. They could be illuminated at night as part of the Brighten Baltimore campaign, said Burns, whose firm designed the giant lantern atop the HarborView tower on Key Highway.

Familiar skyline feature

Burns said he did not want to create an exact replica of the stacks, because that would be fake. He said he wants to put up some kind of marker to preserve the memory of the stacks, because they are such a familiar feature on the skyline.

"Our thought was that we could remove the stacks but we should not remove the urban markers," he said. "That's what should be replaced. One of the issues is that what we do should really be separate from the architecture of the building. You should really know that this is a modern intervention."

Cordish noted that the four stacks are not original to the building, which initially only had one stack in the center. "If we really wanted to do it historically correctly, what we should do is take the stacks down and put nothing back up," he said. "The only reason we would like to put up some [replacement] is that we think it looks better."

Most of the five panel members voiced support of the developers' logic. Panel member Amy Weinstein suggested that the developer hire a well-known public artist, such as Claes Oldenburg or Martin Puryear to create a work of art on top of the Power Plant.

"I very much like and support the idea of bringing back the memory of the stacks," she said. But the replacements "needn't resemble smokestacks. I'd hate for them to be part of the architecture, like the cupola idea, because they're not part of the architecture. It seems like a very unique idea to place sculpture on top of the building."

'Extremely optimistic'

Panel member Phoebe Stanton suggested that the replacements be shaped like Ionic columns.

Cordish said he is "extremely optimistic" that the project will be a success. "We are convinced that we now have a plan that preserves the essence of the building and the history of the building and is leasable" as well, he said.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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