Changing horses in midstream

ARCHITECTURE

Hippodrome renovators replace architectural firms

September 30, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

With construction of Baltimore's Hippodrome Performing Arts Center now under way, the Maryland Stadium Authority has brought on new architects and design consultants to help finish the project.

The state agency has engaged the local firm of Schamu Machowski Greco to make sure the $62.7 million project is built according to previously approved plans. Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, the prominent New York firm that was hired in 1998 to design the center will be "on call" to the agency during the construction period but will not have any day-to-day involvement.

Murphy & Dittenhafer, a local architectural firm that was assisting on the project, is no longer involved. Neither is the original theater design consultant, Fisher/Dachs Associates of New York. It has been replaced by Schuler and Shook of Chicago.

The project - a joint venture of the stadium authority, the Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts and Clear Channel Entertainment - is a cornerstone of a $700 million plan to revitalize Baltimore's west side.

The restored 1914 Thomas Lamb theater at 12 N. Eutaw St. and neighboring buildings are scheduled to reopen as a 2,200-seat performing arts center by February 2004. City officials are counting on it to accommodate 200 performances and draw 400,000 people annually. An event at the theater at 11 a.m. tomorrow will mark the progress made so far.

The change in the design team is an indication that relations between the stadium authority and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer have not been entirely smooth. It has also raised concerns about the project among leading local architects.

"It's a bad point in the project to be getting a new horse," said architect Janet Marie Smith, vice president of planning and development for Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse. "It's a highly unusual method of completing a project." Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer is one of the country's leading architects for theaters and restoration projects, she said. "They wrote the book on rehab. They seemed perfect for this job."

"I think it's a mistake," said Charles Brickbauer, widely regarded as Baltimore's best architect.

With complicated projects such as theaters and building restorations, Brickbauer said, design questions often arise during the construction phase, and the original architects are "the last word in the interpretation of the construction documents." At construction meetings for the Hippodrome, he said, "there should be a representative" from Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer.

"It can be done" the way the stadium authority has chosen, Brickbauer added, but "it's not ideal."

When Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer's team was hired, then-stadium authority executive director Bruce Hoffman said the selection panel was "extremely impressed" by Hardy, who has helped design or restore dozens of theaters and other arts centers, including Radio City Music Hall and the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York.

Since then, however, Hoffman has been replaced by Richard Slosson; Clear Channel acquired the original operator, Theatre Management Group; and the project's cost has risen from $35 million to nearly $63 million.

The Hippodrome also has had three project managers; the current one, Robert Boras, came on late in the project and has been known to clash with Hardy representatives. Boras, who gives his title as "managing architect" for the project, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. He is scheduled to discuss the project at a public forum at noon Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center.

Walter Schamu, founder and president of the architectural firm now working on the Hippodrome, said he has been instructed by his clients not to talk about the project.

Slosson, the stadium authority's executive director and Boras' boss, said it is unusual for a client to use a different architect at this phase and that no other stadium authority project has been built that way. Nevertheless, he said, the authority and its partners determined that bringing in a local architect now would be the best way to complete the project.

Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer's design is getting built, Slosson said. But now that construction is moving ahead, the stadium authority and its partners didn't see the point in having an out-of-town architect monitor construction. "We made a mutual decision that it would be more beneficial to the project to have a local architect for construction administration," Slosson said. "I'd call it an efficiency issue."

Slosson added that many other consultants from the original team are still working on the project, and that Hugh Hardy and his colleagues will be available to address questions that come up. Schamu Machowski Greco will not be making any changes to the design without Hardy's knowledge, he added.

Tim Reedy, administrative director for Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, confirmed that the company will be on call to the stadium authority. "Whether we agree with it or not, they're the client," he said.

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