Highlandtown library branch drawings draw praise, formal approval from panel

January 31, 2003|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

The plan for a new 30,000-square-foot library in Highlandtown passed its first official hurdle yesterday when architects from Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel approved concept drawings for the $8.5 million facility.

The library, intended to comprise reading spaces as well as community meeting rooms, computer labs, a copy shop, and a cafe and garden, is tentatively slated to open in 2005.

Designed to fill most of a lot at the corner of Eastern Avenue and South Conkling Street, the library's most distinctive feature is a glass atrium that connects a comma-shaped, 2 1/2 -story brick building to a rectangular metal and glass building. Plans call for both structures to be cradled by a piazza at the north-west end of the lot and a reading garden at the south-east corner.

Yesterday, the seven-member panel praised architects Hillier Group and Weichi Chen for using two distinct materials in the design, a matter that has concerned some in Highlandtown who would prefer a less conspicuous facility.

Though several were present at the meeting, no community members spoke against the plan.

"We approve the direction, but we also think there's some thinking to be done," said panel member Mario Schack, who outlined three recommended alterations to the proposed design.

The most significant change was proposed for the piazza, an open space at the corner of Eastern and Conkling, where Chen envisioned diners sitting outside at tables scattered amid works of art.

Elliot Rhodeside, a landscape architect who serves on the advisory panel, said the area needs to be better defined.

Gary Bowden, a retired principal of RTKL Associates and the panel's newest member, suggested something "more civic" looking. Another member, Walter D. Ramberg, told Chen that the practice of sitting exposed to busy traffic on Eastern Avenue "may have charm for you, but it may not have charm for everyone."

The panel also suggested enlarging a terrace off the community meeting room and bringing consistency to asymmetrical window openings in the brick structure.

Phoebe Stanton, a professor emeritus of art history at the Johns Hopkins University, was the lone voice expressing dislike for the overall design.

"I think it's going to dominate the neighborhood," Stanton said. "It's a big, multipurpose affair. ... I'm just not quite happy with it."

The panel, which will look at a revision of the project in coming months, determines whether the city should grant a building permit and allow the construction to move forward.

After the meeting, Chen said he was pleased to have the panel's input.

"We don't want this library to overpower the community," he said.

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