Inner Arbor hires landscape designer for Symphony Woods

Landscape designer Martha Schwartz has been named by Inner Arbor Trust Inc. to be the lead designer for phase one of the project that will help transform Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia.

The London resident and alumna of Harvard University's Graduate School of Design will work alongside Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates on landscaping the northern section of the park. Phase one, which borders Little Patuxent Parkway and extends to the edge of Merriweather Post Pavilion, includes a $3.5 million outdoor amphitheater, pathways and a guest services area, which likely will sell food and beverages.


"I'm hoping we can make some magic happen in there," Schwartz said. "I'm hoping we can make a splash and make something people will want to come back to; a new image for 21st century Columbia."

According to Inner Arbor President Michael McCall, the group will formally introduce Schwartz and the rest of the design team for phase one at a public meeting scheduled for Nov. 18 at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. The design team also includes New York-based architecture companies TheVeryMany and nArchitects as well as international design and engineering firm Arup.


"Martha's not only a landscape designer, she's a landscape artist," McCall said.

McCall said Schwartz is "the curator for the park," and that she will make Symphony Woods "a new kind of cultural park where the landscape becomes a setting for arts, cultural and civic uses," which is how it is described in the Howard County's Downtown Master Plan.

"We didn't come up with that statement, but we embrace it," McCall said.

Schwartz, 63, is an award-winning designer who has worked on projects in the United States, Europe and China. Among her work is the 1998 redevelopment of the plaza in front of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters, which is located on 7th Street in Washington.

Schwartz said her work with Inner Arbor will differ from other projects, which are mostly in urban environments.

"This project is more about insertions than major changes," Schwartz said on a phone interview from Germany. "Those trees are the most important thing of the site. It's about protecting that forest and making the experience more vivid and varied."

A pre-submission community meeting on phase one of the plan is set for Dec. 2. A location for the meeting has not been finalized.

At the meeting, specific designs for the outdoor amphitheater, the guest services hub and other features will be revealed. In an interview last week, McCall said the amphitheater will be part park pavilion, part performance venue and that, aesthetically, it will "add to the artistic quality of the park."

McCall said the $3.5 million for the amphitheater comes from $4.5 million allotted for the Trust by County Executive Ken Ulman, who made the funds available in his 2014 operating budget.

McCall said there is currently no funding in place for the guest services hub, but that the Trust is moving forward with designs for the area.

The December meeting, which is required by the master plan, is considered step nine of 16 in the development process and signals the beginning of the site development plan phase.

In addition to the county funds, the Inner Arbor has access to $1.6 million from the Columbia Association, which owns Symphony Woods and created the Inner Arbor Trust.


The remaining funds are expected to come from tax-deductible grants, but the Inner Arbor must first receive 501(c)3 designation from the Internal Revenue Service before that can occur.

McCall said the corporation expects to submit a 350-page proposal to the IRS by Thanksgiving.

After the application is received, McCall said it likely will take six to 12 months for the IRS to respond.

He believes the Trust has "a good case."

When asked about how the designs for phase one will mesh with Howard Hughes' plans to make the crescent property, which surrounds Symphony Woods, an employment center, McCall said the Inner Arbor plan "should help any kind of development downtown.

"Howard Hughes' plan is great," he added. "There is a lot of synergy between what we are doing and downtown's evolution."

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