Designers vie for Columbus Center job Six apply to create the public exhibits


How can an Inner Harbor attraction make the mysterious world of marine biotechnology understandable, even exciting, to the average person?

That's the key question planners of the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration put to half a dozen leading exhibit designers they interviewed this week.

A designer will be hired within the next month or so to plan interior spaces for the $164 million marine research and exhibition center planned for Piers 5 and 6. The exhibits are intended to help visitors understand the wide array of research activities that will be going on inside the building, conceived as a "Smithsonian of the Seas" and Baltimore's next major Inner Harbor attraction.

Candidates for the job -- all of whom have national reputations -- include Associates and Ferren, a design team that has worked closely with the Walt Disney studios and others on special effects for motion pictures; Edwin Schlossberg, creator of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, Hanna Barbera Land in Houston and other interactive exhibits; and Cambridge Seven Associates, designer of half a dozen aquariums around the world, including Baltimore's.

Also, Joseph Wetzel Associates, a Boston-based exhibit designer whose work includes the top floor observation deck in Baltimore's World Trade Center; Imagination, a London- and New York-based design group with experience in museum exhibit and trade show design; and Communication Arts Inc. of Boulder, Colo., a firm that has worked closely with the Rouse Co. and others on graphics for large urban centers, including Rouse's Gallery at Harborplace.

"We're very close now to getting together a team of people to define the public persona of the center," said Stanley Heuisler, chairman of the Columbus Center board.

"The exhibit designer is the person who takes the essential role of the center, its mission as a center of science and technology, in all its near-term and far-term facets, and puts it into a concept that can be both designed and sold" to prospective sponsors, he said.

"It's a terrific lineup of people, and they seem to have a lot of interest in the project," said Laurin B. "Monk" Askew, vice president and director of design for the Rouse Co., the development managers for the Columbus Center.

Mr. Heuisler said one or more design teams may be selected within the next month. He said the exhibit designer will work closely with the new architects of the Columbus Center, the Zeidler Roberts Partnership of Toronto, to determine the themes and look of the project's public areas, including a 30,000-square-foot exhibition space and high-tech facilities that will be used for teaching and public conferences.

The exhibit area, in particular, is conceived as the public's window into the research activities of the center and a major Inner Harbor attraction and will complement the offerings of the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

The interviews took place one week after the Columbus Center board decided to part company with British architect Richard Rogers, after failing to reach an agreement on consultant fees, and to hire Zeidler Roberts to carry out the "construction phases" of the project.

Mr. Heuisler said that the interviews for the exhibition designer were scheduled before the decision was made to hire Zeidler Roberts and that the new architects were represented on the subcommittee that interviewed the candidates.

Besides Mr. Askew, members of that subcommittee were Michael Campbell, senior design manager for Rouse; Osusola Seriki, development director for Rouse; Jeff Middlebrooks and Jillian Bishop of the Baltimore Development Corp.; Alice Merrill of the state's Division of Historical and Cultural Programs; Osborne Payne, a Baltimore businessman; Dr. Allan Place, associate professor of the state's Center of Marine Biotechnology; and Barbara Hopewell and Kalibor Vokac of Zeidler Roberts.

Mr. Heuisler also said that he met recently with representatives of Zeidler Roberts, the runner-up to Mr. Rogers in a 1989 selection process, and that the firm is in the process of forming its local design team.

He said he conveyed to Zeidler Roberts that the Columbus Center board would like to see the firm become affiliated with as many local subcontractors as possible and meet the city's goals for hiring minority- and women-owned businesses.

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