They toured the site — 27 aces of prime waterfront property wedged between ritzy Harbor East and trendy Fell's Point in Baltimore City.
They met with the developer, who reviewed his $1 billion project of offices, retail, residential and hotel.
Now, Loyola Blakefield students are taking a crack at coming up with their own plan for the site on which Harbor Point is being built.
Loyola Blakefield is one of 10 teams this year, in Team Project, an annual event of ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Baltimore, a national organization with local chapters. For the five-member team, it is part of a year-long course on architecture at Loyola Blakefield, a Catholic boys' high school in Towson.
"They can propose anything they want for the site," said Steven Shapiro, an architect and upper school art teacher who entered the team in the event. The project culminates on May 13 with the teams presenting their plans.
Every year, student-teams develop a different site. Past projects have ranged from a new building at Morgan State University to a fantasy U.S. Olympics stadium.
"Usually, it's something in the news," said Shapiro. Harbor Point certainly meets those criteria.
Team Project is intended to be as close to the real-world design process as you can get with high school students. They have to take into account the site's parameters — in this case its environmental remediation — which limits digging in the ground, and its urban use.
Otherwise, they aren't constrained by a budget. They aren't concerned with zoning. They don't have to contend with neighbors, community groups and government agencies over sticky issues like water pollution, traffic congestion and school overcrowding.
"It's a clean slate. We want them to be creative," said David Recchia, vice president and principal at the architectural firm Rubeling & Associates in Towson, who serves at Loyola Blakefield's team mentor. He has been mentoring Team Project students for six years, among them Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, St. Paul's School and Belair High School.
On the Loyola Blakefield team, junior Matt Trail, 16, envisions a family-friendly development that would attract visitors to downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor.
"Our assignment is to take this giant plot of land, a new area in Baltimore. Investors want to develop it for different uses like offices and hotel," said the Phoenix resident. "I'd like to see a place where families can spend the day, with a park and lots of things to do."
Likewise, junior Griff Gilmore, 17, wants green space in the team's imaginary development. "I'd like an outdoorsy feel, a place for people to come and hang out, perhaps with restaurants," said Gilmore, who lives in Baltimore.
Gilmore said team members are all contributing ideas to the ultimate design. "The challenge is to get all the ideas into a unified plan," he said.
Once that happens, the team will draw a master plan, showing where buildings, park and paths will go. The team comes up with a general construction schedule. It also picks a key building to translate into a cardboard model, with details like square footage, construction material and cost.
"The team is looking at dozens of buildings for various parts of the site," Shapiro said of the mixed-use project the students are planning. "They are looking at a continuation of the Harbor promenade and a series of outdoor spaces. They have to describe how the site will be used, which also means roads, streets and waterfront."
The building model is likely to be a 25-story office tower the students have situated in the center of the site.
"There is retail on the ground floor and offices above," Shapiro said. "But parking is a big issue on that site. You have to incorporate parking in the building mass in some way."
Each team in Team Project is assigned mentors in the different construction fields, from architects to engineers and contractors.
"We want to give the students exposure to the professions," said Recchia, who has been meeting with the Loyola Blakefield team weekly. Whiting-Turner construction company is the team's other mentor.
Shapiro agreed: "They get a chance to work with developers, architects and engineers, and find out what the process is like, what the challenges are."
Both Trail and Gilmore have found it so. They are interested in careers as architects and Team Project has given them insight into the profession.
Said Gilmore, "I came away from the developer's talk with good ideas. I like best going to the architect's office. He's given us free rein to create what we want. It's a challenge."
"As a kid, I loved building with blocks. I wanted to see what the design process was like," Trail said. "It's been interesting and challenging."