Architect faithful to the original Center's expansion is tailored to its setting, yet boldly appealing

September 03, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,STAFF WRITER

William Donald Schaefer, the mayor who would reinvent downtown Baltimore, made it plain: He wanted the best convention center in America and insisted he would settle for nothing less.

So George Loschky, the architect who would help reinvent convention centers, flew from city to city to check out the competition. The notoriously bland buildings left him thoroughly unimpressed.

"The majority of them were just plain awful," he said. "They were just big boxes. They were almost like warehouses."

Designing their first convention center, Loschky and his team of Seattle architects took a decidedly unconventional approach, by 1970s standards, at least.

With its striking angled facade, a main lobby flooded with natural light filtered through glass walls, airy public spaces, outdoor terraces and on-site food service, the Baltimore Convention Center quickly won rave reviews as a pioneer in convention center design.

Nearly 15 years after its 1979 opening, Loschky once again set his sights on the place that launched his career: the Baltimore Convention Center.

He and his partners at Loschky, Marquardt & Nesholm, lead architects of the Convention Center's $151 million expansion and renovation, have toiled for about three years to design an addition that would live up to the reputation of the existing center.

They strove to create a new section, nearly twice the size of the 17-year-old original, that would be distinctive in its own right, yet seamlessly linked to the existing center and its environs.

"We needed something new, but harmonious," said Loschky. "Nobody wanted a cookie-cutter copy of the original. The design needed to be sympathetic to the original, but not a copy of it."

Like the original, the expansion reflects Loschky's attention to common areas -- beyond the exhibition space and meeting rooms, such as corridors, lounges, terraces, entrances.

The architect said he views these areas as at least as important as the requisite meeting and convention space.

Even more than the existing center, common areas in the 800,000-square-foot, four-story addition capitalize on what Loschky considers one of Baltimore's chief assets -- what's outside the center.

Some 61,000 square feet of glass, imported from Britain, frames expansive corridors and public spaces, providing views of Oriole Park and the warehouse at Camden Yards, downtown and South Baltimore.

Not so long ago, convention center designers treated such common areas merely as an afterthought, said Loschky, whose team has played key design roles for 30 convention center projects. A member of several national and international convention and association organizations for nearly two decades, he regularly attends their gatherings and constantly questions meeting planners and conventioneers about what they would like to see in convention center design. The answers have grown familiar.

"What they're really looking for are much more user-friendly places where people could sit down and talk to each other. The early centers basically just had meeting rooms and corridors connecting them," he said. "It's really the public spaces -- whether a restaurant or lounge or concourse -- that in our minds are where the buildings can become much more unique."

On each project, Loschky works closely with a vast platoon of key players, including other architects, engineers, convention center staff, contractors and construction project managers. In Baltimore, the architecture firm Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet provided daily oversight during construction.

It's exhaustive, time-consuming work that belies the myth of design as a product of a sudden creative surge. For the Baltimore expansion, transforming initial ideas into a final design consumed a year.

With convention center design credits from here to San Diego, Loschky prides himself on tailoring unique designs to each city without sacrificing creativity and innovation.

Thus, a new $350 million center in Hawaii, designed by Loschky's firm in partnership with another, features open-air, covered corridors, a 70-foot waterfall in the lobby and a tropical roof garden. San Diego's beckons conventioneers with a 108,000-square-foot terrace on the waterfront and a nautical-themed interior boasting views of the water and downtown.

For a Minneapolis convention center, by contrast, Loschky aimed for a soothing, warm antidote for the brutal winters, relying heavily on wood to create the rustic feel of an upscale ski lodge.

Each center, Loschky said, must be treated as something of a sculptural form flowing from the site, the climate, the surroundings, and each must have a distinct personality that impresses and entertains.

"Convention centers are in many ways the most important civic structure conveying to the outside world what a city is all about," he said.

"Delegates who virtually live in the center for their stay will leave fTC with an impression about the city to a large extent formed by how they felt about their experiences in the center," he added.

"Convention centers are such visible buildings, they're such an important part of every community that they demand designs that are entertaining and memorable."

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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