The $95 million Canton Crossing business park has been designed for a waterfront site that is 6 miles from downtown Baltimore, but its master plan calls for at least one building that would be right at home in the middle of the city.
A 17-story office and condominium tower is the signature architectural feature for the 51-acre development, planned for the intersection of Boston and Clinton streets.
Designed by Arium Architects of Columbia to be a blend of traditional and contemporary touches, the tower would be one of the tallest structures in east Baltimore and would mark a new gateway to the center city for those heading toward it from the east.
In renderings, it comes across as an architectural offshoot of the city's financial district brought to the heart of industrial Canton, as if the developers were trying to make the point that Clinton Street is now a setting for traditional business activity as well as shipping and warehousing.
It would be clad in the same brick used to build Oriole Park at Camden Yards - another subtle suggestion of how far eastward the downtown business district is expanding.
Visible from both downtown Baltimore and Interstate 95, the tower also is likely to set the tone for other buildings at Canton Crossing, including a hotel, shops, restaurants and several lower office buildings.
"This building would fit in downtown Baltimore" and many other central business districts, said Steve McLaughlin, a principal of Arium Architects. "Brick is a common building material in Baltimore. It's a part of Baltimore's history, and that's why we wanted to use it. We want to tie in to the rest of the city."
The business park would contain more than 1 million square feet of space - room for 4,800 employees in all - if Baltimore's City Council passes legislation drafted to permit commercial development on land now zoned solely for industrial use. Its developer is Canton Crossing LLC, a local group headed by Baltimore businessman Edwin F. Hale Sr., who is also chairman and chief executive of First Mariner Bancorp, owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team and head of several trucking and transportation companies.
The tower would have 15 stories of office space and 12 two-story condominiums at the top. Hale said he would use at least five stories as the headquarters for First Mariner and other businesses he controls and lease out the rest. Each floor would have about 25,000 square feet of space, and as much as half of the first level could be retail space, according to the proposed legislation. Seven or eight floors are already leased.
The tower would be several blocks from the shoreline so that it wouldn't block views of the harbor from lower buildings in the business park. Its lower levels would be linked to a former factory that Hale already owns and has begun to renovate for use by the bank and other tenants.
McLaughlin and Michael Uhlman of Arium said they drew inspiration from traditional urban buildings that are clad in brick and have a base, middle and top, such as the U. S. Appraisers Stores at Gay and Lombard streets.
McLaughlin said the undulating lines of the four-story base echo the undulating roofline of the factory building to which it will be connected. The middle of the tower, clad in a mix of brick and glass, contains the bulk of the office space. The upper two levels contain the luxury condominiums, including one that will be occupied by Hale. Prices will start at $1 million.
One problem with the design, visually, is that the top seems too heavy. The base provides a solid foundation, and the middle gets lighter with its combination of glass and brick. But instead of making the residential floors lighter still, the architects went back to an extensive use of brick and individual windows, even on the corners where the office floors below are clad in glass.
The composition would be better if the architects introduced more glass at the top, especially at the corners. Then the building would appear to get progressively lighter as it reaches toward the sky. More use of glass or balconies on the residential levels also would take advantage of the panoramic views from that height while signaling the change in use from the floors below.
For the ground plane, meanwhile, the architects say they want to reinforce the sense of tradition and urbanity by using materials that are associated with historic Baltimore, such as wrought iron gates and fencing and lamp posts with a nautical theme.
Preliminary plans for Canton Crossing are scheduled for presentation later this month to Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel. Designs for some of the other office buildings are not as far along, but it's already clear that the architects are not afraid to draw from the best of Baltimore's traditional architecture in their quest to create a first-rate addition to the Canton skyline.