What's wrong with this picture?

Lockwood Place would break the design frame so carefully shaped for the Inner Harbor.

Architecture: Review

April 08, 2001|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Architecture Critic

Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a delicate architectural balance of order and exuberance, and that is part of its appeal. But even after 35 years of redevelopment it remains an urban composition so fragile, and so vulnerable to design missteps, that it could tip over to sheer chaos at any time, if errant projects aren't constantly reined in.

A hotel blocking Federal Hill? Shrimp restaurant next to the aquarium? Wrecking ball swinging in the middle of the night? Calamity is always right around the corner. Especially in good economic times, beleaguered city planners have so many emergencies to respond to that they ought to work out of a fire station.

The latest threat to civic equilibrium is an $85 million office and shopping center called Lockwood Place, planned for one of the last parcels available for development on the front row of the Inner Harbor.

It should be one of the most eagerly anticipated developments in the city, given the infusion of office workers and shoppers it's likely to trigger. But its design, by Cope Linder Architects of Philadelphia, represents the most alarming breach of harbor planning principles since the 32-story Marriott Waterfront hotel was built on land designated for an 11-story structure.

Lockwood Place is planned for an L-shaped lot that takes up three-quarters of the area bounded by Pratt, Gay and Lombard streets and Market Place. The 2.8-acre parcel was the site of the William V. Lockwood Building, a two-story structure used by Baltimore City Community College, and a parking lot. The college sought development proposals in 1998 and selected a team headed by Kravco Co. of King of Prussia, Pa., and A & R Development Corp. of Baltimore.

The initial proposal called for offices, parking, shops and a hotel. Kravco and A&R subsequently eliminated the hotel and brought in Trammell Crow Co. to build the offices. Cope Linder's latest design calls for the major components to be on three different areas of the site.

A 12-story office tower would rise at the northeast corner of Pratt and Gay streets. A three-story retail center would take shape at the northwest corner of Pratt Street and Market Place. An 11-story garage with shops at street level would be constructed at the southwest corner of Market Place and Lombard Street. The U.S. Appraisers Stores, a federally owned building, remains at the southeast corner of Gay and Lombard.

The uses are appropriate for the site and, given the eastward movement of downtown development, have a good chance of success. The problem is that the architectural elements don't conform to an urban frame that city planners have created over the years to surround the harbor basin and provide a backdrop for people and events along the water's edge. One section is taller than the frame and another section is shorter. Together, they are out of line just enough to be jarring and to detract from the sense of order and enclosure that makes the Inner Harbor such a pleasure to visit.

Since the 1960s, the Inner Harbor has been rebuilt according to a set of urban design principles that subordinate individual buildings to the total composition so they don't fight each other for attention. Generally, the forms of Baltimore's new buildings reflect more concern for massing, proportion, scale and other basic considerations than for stylistic trends.

The urban frame for the Inner Harbor has been formed by relatively low buildings along Pratt and Light streets that make essentially recessive statements. They are punctuated only at strategic locations by towers, such as the World Trade Center and the Legg Mason Tower. The horizontal buildings along Pratt Street, constructed at a consistent height of 145 feet or about 9 to 10 stories, are distinguished primarily by facade details and form a quiet outline, like a picture frame.

The background buildings that make up the urban frame provide a counterpoint to the more sculptural foreground structures that enliven the scene along the harbor promenade. They also give the lake-like harbor a sense of containment without making it seem too walled-in.

City officials have been rigorous in seeing to it that the Inner Harbor plan and design principles are followed. The result is an environment of considerable architectural sophistication and control.

"I am convinced that this frame is a primary cause of the feeling of well-being that everyone enjoys along the shoreline," said Martin Millspaugh, former chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc., a forerunner of the Baltimore Development Corporation. "The massing of structures created by the Inner Harbor plan has produced a priceless asset for all of the owners and occupants and, therefore, for the city itself."

Breaking the frame

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