Firm that changed face of Md. Architects: Fifty years ago this week, Archibald Coleman Rogers started the architectural firm that became RTKL Associates Inc., the state's largest and one with work in 45 countries.

Urban Landscape

July 04, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE FOUR-LEVEL house at 49 College Ave. in Annapolis, now undergoing conversion to Naval Academy alumni offices, bears no sign of the unusual role it played in changing the face of Maryland.

But 50 years ago this week, it was the birthplace of the architectural firm that quickly grew to be one of the country's largest.

It's where Archibald Coleman Rogers first hung up his shingle and began to practice architecture -- the genesis of the international design firm now known as RTKL Associates Inc.

Rogers still has the hand-painted sign, which shows a yellow triangle, a red T-square, and distinctive lettering that reads: Archibald Coleman Rogers, Registered Architect.

Within a month he was joined by Francis T. Taliaferro, who began as a draftsman and soon became a full partner.

"We opened at 8: 30 on the morning of July 1," Rogers, 78, recalled this week. "It was my grandfather's house and I set up shop in the basement.

"I designed the sign, painted it and hung it up. It was my first architectural project."

Even though he didn't have any clients in the beginning, Rogers said, he advertised for a draftsman because he thought every architectural firm needed one. That's how he came to hire Taliaferro, who was being mustered out of the Marine Corps when he answered the ad. By year's end, the firm's name was changed to Rogers & Taliaferro, Architects.

"We would open the office at 9," Rogers said. "If no one showed up by noon, we went sailing. Best days of our lives."

This weekend, hundreds of current and former RTKL associates will get to relive those early days, as they gather at the Loews Annapolis Hotel to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary.

It is the start of a series of events that are being held around the country to mark the growth and longevity of the design firm, the state's largest.

Now based in Baltimore and headed by Harold Adams, RTKL has more than 500 employees in seven offices, including London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Though RTKL has work in 45 countries, Baltimore and Maryland are a veritable museum of its projects, and it's hard to imagine the region without them. Projects range from the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Commerce Place in downtown Baltimore to Towson Town Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the Charles Center Metro station.

An Annapolis native and graduate of Princeton University, Rogers had just completed a stint in the Navy when he launched his firm.

Hardly any architects were based in Annapolis at that time, he said, and he wanted to fill the void in his hometown.

Work came in gradually at first -- a house in Severna Park, a storefront in Annapolis, a school in Anne Arundel County. In the summer of 1949, the partners hired Charles Lamb, then a fourth-year architecture student at the University of Michigan.

After he graduated in 1950, Lamb went to work there full time, and the firm became Rogers, Taliaferro & Lamb in 1956. Rogers was the rainmaker and urban designer. Lamb was the chief designer, and Taliaferro was the glue that held the office together, doing whatever was necessary to serve the clients.

The fourth partner was George Kostritsky, who joined the firm in 1961 and stayed until the early 1970s. Because Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky & Lamb was a mouthful, the partners shortened the name to RTKL Associates Inc. in the mid-1960s, when the company became a corporation.

Besides providing a memorable moniker, the letters indicated that the firm wasn't dominated by any one individual, said Lamb, 70. "We reduced it to an icon or a symbol -- something abstract."

As the years passed the architects began to win awards and, with them, bigger commissions.

One breakthrough project was "the tepee" -- a 12-sided, cone-shaped lodge for Girl Scouts that was built in 1952 at Camp Woodlands in Anne Arundel County. Still in use, it won a design award from the American Institute of Architects -- the company's first national recognition.

In 1954, when noted architect Pietro Belluschi was chosen to design a new sanctuary for the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, he asked Rogers et al. to be his local architects -- largely because he was so impressed by the $10,500 tepee.

The architects secured another significant commission in 1954 when developer James Rouse hired them to design Harundale Mall in Anne Arundel County. It was the beginning of a long and profitable relationship between Rouse and RTKL, which collaborated on projects such as Owings Mills Town Center and White Marsh Town Center.

At Rouse's request, Rogers took a leave of absence from the firm to serve as the first executive director of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

That generated urban design work for RTKL in downtown Baltimore and many other cities. In 1974, Rogers became the national president of the AIA largely due to his urban design activities.

The firm developed many other specialties, including retailing, health care, interior architecture, environmental graphics and mixed-use projects.

But all three founding partners say their greatest achievement is the firm itself and the way it has grown since Arch Rogers hung up his shingle at 49 College Ave. in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 7/04/96

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