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New lighthouse beckons people to Inner Harbor


This is the first installment of a weekly column by staff writer Edward Gunts, who covers architecture. Every Thursday in this section, he will explore noteworthy places and spaces in Maryland.

A lighthouse ordinarily warns navigators to keep away from rocky shores.

But a new lighthouse in Baltimore has been designed to beckon people to a stretch of Inner Harbor shoreline -- one its owners hope will be anything but rocky.

This is not a marker for mariners. It is 100 HarborView Drive, the first tower of the 1,590-unit condominium community taking shape near the base of Federal Hill -- and the tallest residential structure in the city.

At its top, an eight-sided beacon is almost ready to light up the night, like the torch on the Statue of Liberty.

The developers of HarborView, a group that includes Baltimorean Richard Swirnow and a Far Eastern consortium called Parkway Holdings Ltd., intend to illuminate the crown in a public ceremony this fall. But even now, its presence is a sign that the 27-story tower is nearing the early-1993 completion date.

The tower's architects, a group headed by Columbia Design Collective, took a daring design approach and produced one of the most sculpturally intriguing buildings on the skyline. They did not give the tower a flat top, as on a 1960s-era office building. Nor did they give it a timid party-hat top, like the sloping roofs on some of the newer office buildings downtown.

Instead, they created a distinctive emblem that is visible all around the harbor. Supported by flying buttresses, the beacon flares out at the top and makes a gesture to the sky, like a bird spreading its wings.

Inside the beacon's 24-foot-high, frosted-glass windows are 384 fluorescent lights that will glow each night. Its top will be (P illuminated from below by a series of 400-watt sodium floodlights, three at the base of each buttress. From a distance, the beacon will appear to be surrounded by a white halo.

"We're hoping that the impression you get is that someone is living up there, like the Phantom of the Opera," said architect Richard Burns. "You'll get a sense that there's something behind the glass."

"So many people have commented about it," quips HarborView vice president Tom Marudas, "that we almost wish it were a penthouse." That would not have been possible under the current city height limits for the site, which permit occupied floors to be no higher than 290 feet. Only because the beacon conceals mechanical equipment, including a water tower and exhaust fans, was it allowed to rise so high.

Real estate agents for the 254-unit tower, where sales are hovering around 100, say traffic at the sales center has picked up in recent weeks. The agents are looking forward to a point soon when construction will be far enough along that they can regularly take prospective residents up in the tower.

But the sales people also know there are many tire-kickers in town who are waiting for the auction -- a fire sale similar to the ones held for Scarlett Place, the Colonnade, Henderson's Wharf, Belt's Wharf Landing and other upscale condominiums in the past several years.

Mr. Swirnow, citing the deep pockets of his Far Eastern partners, vows there will be no auction. The rooftop beacon exemplifies his confidence. It is a proud new symbol on the skyline that sends a welcoming message. Its distinctive shape says this building will be different from the ones that came before.

Coming attraction:

After more than a year of construction and an expenditure of $8.5 million, the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore will dedicate its new school for mentally and physically challenged children on Oct. 9.

The brightly colored building, at 100 N. Ann St. in Washington Hill, was formerly the Fairmount Hill School. Designed by Hord Coplan Macht, the renovated school has large classrooms, wide hallways, and indoor and outdoor recreation areas. It serves preschool, elementary and middle-school students from Baltimore and five surrounding counties.

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