Inner Arbor introduces design team for Symphony Woods

Inner Arbor landscape designer Martha Schwartz speaks to a crowd of 150 at the Smith Theatre at Howard Community College Monday. Schwartz was one of six lead designers for the plan introduced to the public at a presentation this week.

The design team assembled to implement the ambitious Inner Arbor Plan for Symphony Woods in Columbia was introduced Monday to approximately 150 people inside Smith Theatre at Howard Community College.

The six-member group includes London-based landscape designer Martha Schwartz; Scott Rykiel, from the Baltimore-based landscape design firm Mahan & Rykiel; New York-based digital architect and artist Marc Fornes; Mimi Hoang and Eric Bunge, of nArchitects in New York; and acoustics engineer Raj Patel, from the international engineering firm Arup.


"We've assembled, we think, a sterling team that I am very honored to be associated with," said Michael McCall, president of the Inner Arbor Trust Inc., a corporation formed to manage the development of Symphony Woods.

The Inner Arbor Plan is an alternative design for Symphony Woods that proposes creating an arts district and park on the 36 acres surrounding Merriweather Post Pavilion in downtown. Phase one of the plan, which was approved by the Board of Directors of the Columbia Association, which owns the land, will build an outdoor amphitheater, pathways and a guest services area north of Merriweather and south of Little Patuxent Parkway.


A total of $6.1 million in seed money has been made available to the Trust, which is designed to generate revenue through donations, by the Howard County government and the Columbia Association.

At Monday night's meeting, team members delivered 20-minute presentations that showed examples of their portfolio and discussed their areas of expertise, entertaining the audience with humorous anecdotes along the way.

Monday's presentation sets the stage for a Dec. 2 meeting in which the design team is scheduled to present a detailed plan to the public.

Schwartz will be "the curator for the park," and, along with Rykiel's team in Baltimore, tasked with creating artistic landscaping for the park.

"There is such an untapped potential here, and we see it as your Central Park," Rykiel said.

Fornes, a self-proclaimed "nerd," is the co-founder of theverymany, a design group based in Brooklyn that uses complex computer algorithms to create functional pieces of art. Included in Fornes' portfolio are pop-up stores, school play equipment and outdoor amphitheaters.

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For the Inner Arbor, Fornes will work alongside fellow European Patel, an acoustics engineer, in designing the $3.5 million outdoor amphitheater, which McCall said will be used for concerts, performances and community functions.

Patel said the Inner Arbor reminded him of a project he did in Scotland, where the "acoustics and beauty of sounds could be achieved simply."


Hoang and Bunge, who co-founded nArchitects, have designed everything from new wave apartment buildings to bamboo outdoor performance venues.

Hoang said the idea behind nArchitects is to adjust the design to the environment.

"In all of our projects we are looking for some different kind of intersection between art, landscape and architecture," she said. "What we care about is, are we asking the right question for each project? How can our architecture take cues from the natural environment? How does architecture contribute back to the environment?"

Hoang and Bunge will design the guest services buildings for the project, which likely will be shared with Merriweather and house food vendors.

The presentations were well received by the audience. Oakland Mills resident and blogger Bill Woodcock said he was "really impressed" with the designer's credentials and that "the results could be breathtaking."