Architects want to build future on life sciences Designing hospitals, labs seen as hope for increasing business.


Find some architects or engineers bent over a drawing board in Baltimore and there's a good chance they aren't crafting the next shopping mall.

They have given up the hotel atrium and mall for the world of medicine and gene splicing. Today, their pencils are sharpened for hospital expansions, research towers and laboratories.

"That is where our future is," says Charles Myer of Henry Adams Inc., a mechanical engineering firm. About 40 percent of Henry Adams' work involves life-science projects -- and the firm wishes it were more.

"It is why we are still here. We are happy and healthy because 80 percent of our work is in college- and university-related facilities," says Adam Gross at Ayers Saint Gross Architects, a Baltimore architectural firm.

The recession nearly halted commercial development and put 1,000 of the state's 2,500 architects out of work between 1989 and 1991. Now, some of the remaining engineers and architects have formed a committee to help local business leaders promote the life sciences as an economic vision for Baltimore and a marketing tool for local architects and engineers. They also want to persuade state officials to give local firms preferential consideration in awarding contracts.

Maryland architects and engineers say that too often they are passed over for out-of-state firms with national reputations. In the past five years, nearly $13 million in architectural fees from state projects of all types -- about a third of the work -- has left the state, according to statistics gathered by the Maryland Society of the American Institute of Architects.

Some of the most important life-science jobs have gone to out-of-state firms: the Christopher Columbus Marine Biotechnology Center to a Canadian firm, the Maryland Bioprocessing Center to Philadelphia architects, the Medical Biotechnology Center to a New York firm and the University of Maryland Medical System Clinical Tower to a Canadian firm.

Still, architects and state officials acknowledge that many contracts go elsewhere because local architects lack the expertise needed to design a life-science building.

Designing a laboratory where scientists work with toxic chemicals or high-tech equipment is not the same as designing an office building. For instance, mechanical and electrical engineers need special knowledge in designing a ventilation system to contain chemical fumes or ensuring that water is properly treated before it goes into a sewer system. And no one in Maryland has concentrated on the design of pharmaceutical laboratories, says David Beard, a principal at RTKL Associates Inc.

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