Design competition due for university law center

June 25, 2008|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun architecture critic

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. The World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington.

Some of the highest-profile construction projects in the country have resulted from international design competitions such as the one the University of Baltimore plans to hold for its new law center. University officials are scheduled to announce today that they are working with the Abell Foundation to hold a $150,000 competition to select the architect, landscape architect and other design consultants for a $107 million law center.

University President Robert L. Bogomolny said the competition is a way to attract architects and designers who might not otherwise seek to work on the project and to demonstrate that the institution is serious about obtaining a first-rate design. The 190,000-square-foot building is expected to rise seven or eight stories at the northeast corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, making it one of the most visible on the University of Baltimore campus. Orioles owner and UB School of Law alumnus Peter G. Angelos is donating $5 million for the project, the largest private gift in the university's history.

"The purpose of the competition is to get the best possible building for that important site," Bogomolny said. "You want a world-class concept. There are huge talents out there. I am confident that we're going to attract a lot of interest."

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, has long sought ways to raise the quality of the design of new buildings throughout Baltimore. He said he was receptive to the idea of supporting a design competition for the proposed law center because it will be a prominent building in a key city location.

"It's a very visible site on the [Jones Falls Expressway] and across from the train station," he said. "It's the first impression that a lot of people will get when they arrive in the city and come down the Jones Falls Expressway. It ought to be as good as we can make it."

Embry said he envisions the $150,000 from Abell being used to pay three finalists $50,000 each to take part in a competition. He sees the stipends as enticements to bring in highly sought-after designers who might not pursue a project in Baltimore without that level of compensation.

"This is to get people to participate in the competition that otherwise would not," he said. "This is not to pay $50,000 to get the same old thing."

Local architects say they are pleased to hear about the competition.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Adam Gross, a principal of Ayers Saint Gross in Baltimore. "It couldn't be a more dramatic site. I think it's terrific that the University of Baltimore and Bob [Bogomolny] have international aspirations for the type of architecture they want on their campus."

"It's the best site in Baltimore outside the harbor area," agreed architect Steve Ziger of Ziger/Snead Architects. "It deserves the highest possible level of design."

Other local projects whose architects were selected after a design competition include the Gallery at Harborplace, won by the Zeidler Roberts Partnership of Toronto, and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, won by a team led by Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, Calif. Other finalists in the College Park competition included such luminaries as Cesar Pelli, Antoine Predock and the late James Freed of Pei Cobb Freed.

Limited design competitions were held to select the architects for the Marine Mammal Pavilion on Pier 4 and the Columbus Center on Inner Harbor Piers 5 and 6. The Columbus Center's builders ended up not constructing the design of the winning architects, a group headed by Richard Rogers of Great Britain.

A design competition cannot by itself ensure that a building will turn out better than one whose architect is selected without such a competition, Embry said. "Nothing is a guarantee," but "it makes it more likely."

A design competition gives a selection panel more information on which to base its selection of an architect, said Steve Cassard, vice president of facilities management and capital planning for the University of Baltimore.

It "affords the extra detail, more development of the design concept," than written or oral presentations outlining a designer's past work, he explained. "It gives us a higher degree of confidence as to what the final product will be."

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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