Best work this year thinks small Projects: The most successful buildings seem to be the little gems rather than the huge efforts

Fine Arts Preview

September 21, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

On the rear wall of a just-renovated apartment building in Baltimore's Mount Vernon historic district, an unusually theatrical detail hints at the property's new use.

High above the alley are bas-reliefs of the masks of Comedy and Tragedy.

Projecting from a flat stucco wall like gargoyles, the masks provide a clue that the apartments inside have been created for interns and artists affiliated with Center Stage, two blocks away.

"No one told the contractor to do it," marveled project manager Del Risberg. "He just put them there because he knew the apartments were for Center Stage, and he wanted to express that connection in the architecture."

That unexpected touch of whimsy pretty much sums up the fall season in local architecture. There will be projects both good and bad, as always. But in many cases the most pleasing work may be found where it is least expected. And this year, more than most, the best projects seem to be the small gems rather than the blockbusters.

One of the most fascinating buildings to open this fall will be the conversion of the former Alex. Brown & Sons headquarters, at Baltimore and Calvert streets, to a branch of Chevy Chase Bank. Architect Walter Schamu of SMDA Associates and interior designers Henry Johnson and Robert Berman -- the same team that saved the venerable Maryland Club after a 1995 fire -- went to great lengths to restore the Alex. Brown building, stained-glass dome and all.

"What we're doing, basically, is turning a bank into a bank," Schamu said. "It's a natural for Chevy Chase."

Other relatively small projects with great promise include the North Hall of the Peabody Conservatory, redesigned by Ziger/Snead Inc. for use as an organ recital hall; and the conversion of former Pratt Library No. 2., in Union Square, to a community center and headquarters for the Neighborhood Design Center. It is a model for the way other library branches could be recycled for community use.

On the other end of the spectrum are a variety of large-scale projects that have been under construction for years and are finally finished or nearing completion.

Chief among them is the $140 million William Donald Schaefer International Pier at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, set for completion by Nov. 1. Designed by the STV Group/William Nicholas Bodouva + Associates, it is the same sort of high-profile civic amenity for the Baltimore-Washington region as the $180 million Jack Kent Cooke Stadium that opened last week in Landover.

On Thursday, Baltimore City Community College administrators dedicated an $18.5 million Life Sciences building, designed by Gaudreau Inc., as part of ceremonies marking the school's 50th anniversary. Yesterday, University of Maryland dignitaries rededicated Ritchie Coliseum in College Park, after a $6.9 million renovation designed by Ayers Saint Gross. Judges and other court personnel recently moved into the first completed section of the $62.3 million Anne Arundel County Courthouse in Annapolis, designed by Spilis Candela/Warnecke.

Today, Woodbrook Baptist Church will dedicate its new sanctuary at 25 Stevenson Lane near Towson, designed by Ayers Saint Gross. On Oct. 5, the Ocean City Convention Center will hold its first event inside a $30 million expansion designed by Rosser Inc. The next day, the Baltimore Jewish Council will dedicate its reconstruction of Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial at Water and Gay streets, redesigned by RCG Inc.

On Oct. 20, the Waldorf School of Baltimore will celebrate the opening of its new school in Coldspring, designed by R. M. Sovich + Peter C. Doo Architects. The Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors Park, an unusual monument designed by landscape architect William Kirwin Inc. for a hillside next to Towson Town Center, is scheduled for completion by the end of the month. So are the first residences at Lafayette Courts in East Baltimore and the Inn at Pier 5 downtown.

Mid-November is the target opening date for initial tenants of The Avenue at White Marsh, Nottingham Properties' $35 million shopping and entertainment center at 8101 Honeygo Blvd., designed by RTKL Associates to evoke a small town's Main Street. The same month, Villa Julie College in Stevenson will complete the last of three campus buildings designed by Ziger/Snead Inc.

On Dec. 14, the Jewish Museum of Maryland will unveil a $2.3 million expansion at 15 Lloyd St. in East Baltimore, designed by RCG Inc. December will also bring completion of the Johns Hopkins University's $18 million renovation of the Homewood Apartments at Charles and 31st streets, with Frank Gant Architects as lead designer.

This fall also marks a variety of local planning efforts, including the citywide Plan Baltimore campaign that began Sept. 17. A group known as the East Side Task Force is studying the area east of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has kicked off a companion study on the west side of town.

Outside Maryland, two of the most significant building openings involve museums: the Guggenheim Museum's satellite in Bilbao, Spain, by Frank O. Gehry and Associates, and the Getty Museum's new Los Angeles campus, by Richard Meier & Partners.

Closer to home, Dec. 2 is the opening date for the MCI Center, a downtown arena in Washington that could provide a blueprint for replacing the antiquated Baltimore Arena. Meanwhile, Marylanders can watch the Ravens Stadium take shape in Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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