RTKL homes in on hotel project Harbor: For Baltimore's largest architectural firm, the Westin would be its first hotel downtown since the Hyatt, which opened in 1981.

Urban Landscape

December 12, 1996|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE'S largest architectural firm, RTKL Associates, has designed dozens of hotels around the world -- including one for Seoul, South Korea, that will rise 100 stories and contain 2,000 rooms.

But the selection of RTKL to design a 44-story hotel overlooking the Inner Harbor has special significance for the firm, principals say, because it would give RTKL a chance to apply its expertise in hotel design and urban design to a project in its hometown.

It also would be the first downtown hotel in Baltimore for RTKL since the 500-room Hyatt, which opened in 1981. And it would be the largest RTKL-designed project in the region since the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration headquarters opened last year in Woodlawn, Baltimore County.

"It's great to have a project of this size in Baltimore," said Harold Adams, chairman and president of RTKL, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

RTKL is working with Westin Hotels & Resorts, a Seattle-based group that wants to build a $160 million hotel on the former News American site at 300 E. Pratt St.

Westin is working with Schulweis Realty to develop the 67,000-square-foot property bounded by Pratt, Commerce, South and Lombard streets.

Westin's group is one of several seeking city support to build a convention hotel downtown.

Baltimore Development Corp. has set tomorrow as the deadline for bids from groups that want city assistance, and at least three groups are expected to respond. Others include Cordish Co., which controls a site at Pratt Street and Market Place, and H&S Properties, lead developer of the Inner Harbor East renewal area.

Given the scant demand for new hotels, only one project is

expected to proceed, and that is likely to be the one that gets city funding assistance.

If Westin's project is constructed, it will be the largest hotel in the city and one of the tallest buildings in the state.

A model created by RTKL for the Westin project indicates that the section containing the hotel rooms would rise from a 10-story base covering the bulk of the site. The base would contain the hotel's common spaces, including an indoor pool, meeting rooms, restaurants and ballrooms.

Above the base, probably at the north end of the site, would be a slimmer tower containing the 800 guest rooms. Below ground would be two levels of parking for 200 cars.

The model looks like a large-scale version of a chair that might have been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a turn-of-the-century Scottish designer popular for his austere, art nouveau furniture.

The model also has a certain Oriental lightness. At the same time, it is far more contemporary in appearance than the last RTKL-designed tower in downtown Baltimore, the Alex. Brown Building at 1 South St.

The Brown tower evolved during the height of the postmodern period in architecture, when designers often created buildings that looked like throwbacks to an earlier era.

The Westin hotel would be RTKL's first post-postmodern tower for downtown Baltimore, an opportunity to provide a more forward-looking expression for the 21st century.

The architects say the model unveiled last week is one of several conceptual studies under consideration for the site.

"We've designed a building that works and fits the site and meets all the city's urban design guidelines," said David Hudson, executive vice president in charge of the project for RTKL. "It has to have a lot more development before it's fully resolved."

Among the design issues to be resolved are:

Skyline view: Exactly how tall would the hotel be? Would the tower be rectangular, square or triangular in plan. How close would the tower be to Pratt Street? Would it be compatible with nearby towers, such as the World Trade Center? Would the roof be flat or pitched?

Streetscape: Where would the main entrance be? The auto drop-off? The service entrance? Would the base have a 90-foot setback from Pratt Street the way surrounding buildings do?

One advantage of the News American site, Hudson said, is that it is next to the 600-room Renaissance hotel. That would enable the two hotels to team up and offer up to 1,400 rooms, essentially in one location. The two hotels could be linked by a pedestrian skywalk, designers say.

Architecture: What would the hotel's surface be made of? Would it be a background building or foreground building? Traditional or futuristic?

Given the many design issues to be resolved, RTKL was a strategic choice for Westin and Schulweis. Active around the world, it has a depth of recent hotel design experience few other firms have. As a local firm, it also has a good understanding of design issues related to the Inner Harbor.

"We want to make it a world-class hotel," Hudson said. "But we want to make sure it's a Baltimore hotel, too."

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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