A `front lawn' for Baltimore

ARCHITECTURE

October 25, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Baltimore's Inner Harbor has been described as the city's living room.

Soon it will have a front lawn as well if city voters approve a $30 million bond issue that would include $2 million to create a "world class" park on the harbor's west shore.

Baltimore's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel, formerly known as the Design Advisory Panel, last week approved preliminary plans for creating a public park on a 2.5 acre parcel along Light Street, between the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Visitors Center.

The park is intended to replace a "temporary" parking lot in operation since the Harborplace pavilions opened in 1980.

Improving the west shore was one of the recommendations made last year by designers hired to update the city's master plan to guide harbor redevelopment.

The Baltimore Development Corp. and Department of Recreation and Parks subsequently commissioned the firms of Thomas Balsley Associates of New York and Hord Coplan Macht of Baltimore to prepare detailed plans for the park - a sign that city officials are serious about making improvements.

Their design calls for a park that would give the city for the first time a flexible waterfront gathering place that could be used both as a spot for quiet contemplation and more active uses such as city festivals.

It calls for the relocation of several small buildings that now clutter the west shore, including the city dockmaster's office and ticket booths for sailing vessels, as well as parking.

In their place would be a large lawn with unobstructed views of the harbor, Federal Hill and the downtown skyline. The lawn would be about 3 feet above the Inner Harbor promenade, and its eastern edge would include steps that could double as seats facing the harbor's edge.

The north, west and south sides of the lawn would be framed by areas with shade trees and flower beds to provide seasonal color. Other proposed features include an overlook spot to view harbor activity, park benches, a pavilion or bandshell for temporary events and a fountain with "dancing jets" of water. The lawn itself would be slightly irregular in shape, suggesting a degree of informality.

During the design panel meeting, reviewer Jay Brodie said he sees the design as "a play between formal and informal." Other proposals have been more formal, he said. "This is looser, which I think is a good and appropriate direction."

The designers say the park would have the same flexibilty, durability and approximate dimensions as New York's Bryant Park, plus the allure of Baltimore's waterfront.

"There really is no good flexible open space in this part of the city," said landscape architect Carol Macht. "Baltimore has a very good park system, but it needs to extend this park system into areas that are growing," such as the waterfront.

"If you start with the premise that every great city has a whole portfolio of parks, what seems to be missing in Baltimore is a group of parks working in tandem along the edge of the Inner Harbor," said landscape architect Thomas Balsley.

"What we concluded is that the city needs a great civic lawn, if you will, a great front lawn that could ... provide relief from the tight promenade experience and a large open space for festivals and exhibits.

"This will be a park that is flexible and open but also one that is contemporary and speaks to the future," he told the panel. "It's a park for the 21st century. It's defined by the architecture that flanks it. It's a park for Baltimore's future."

The ballot item that includes funding for the west shore park is the Economic Development loan question, also known as Question H.

If the loan question passes, money would become available next year. Construction of the park is tentatively expected to begin by mid-2005 and be complete by spring 2006, in time for the Baltimore-Annapolis leg of the 2005-2006 Volvo Ocean Race 'Round the World.

Homewood House

One of Baltimore's best known residences, Homewood House at 3400 N. Charles St., on the grounds of The Johns Hopkins University, has been documented in a book by Catherine Rogers Arthur and Cindy Kelly. The Johns Hopkins University Press published the book in collaboration with the Historic Houses of the Johns Hopkins University.

A lecture by the authors and book signing will be held at noon Wednesday at Shriver Hall, on Hopkins' Homewood campus. After the lecture, which is free and open to the public, Homewood House will be open for tours until 3:30 p.m. The book sells for $34 but will be sold at the event for $31.50.

Grand award

Brown Center, the glass-clad academic building that opened this year at 1301 Mount Royal Ave. as part of the Maryland Institute College of Art, was named the Grand Award winner in the 2004 Excellence in Design competition sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the latest of several accolades for the building, designed by Ziger/Snead and Charles Brickbauer.

One of the building's most attractive spaces, a 525-seat auditorium, this week is being named Falvey Hall in honor of Alice Falvey Greif, a longtime college trustee, and her husband, Roger Greif. The hall will be formally named on Friday as part of the college's annual leadership dinner.

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