Architects envision a new Howard Street Downtown: A competition to reinvigorate the commercial corridor emphasizes the arts.


"The market is perhaps the last true urban precinct," observes one of the award winners in a design competition held to suggest ways to rejuvenate Howard Street.

"Real exchanges and transactions occur there all the time: Commercial, cultural, drugs, fruit, sex, food, odor, pig, goat, cheese. ... No one is left out of the dance."

And, apparently, no ideas were left out of consideration by the 37 competitors, whose entries represent a veritable marketplace of ideas for Howard Street.

The Baltimore Architecture Foundation's Young Architects Committee launched the contest last summer to stimulate thinking about Baltimore's moribund retail corridor, which city officials are trying to revive as a regional "Avenue of the Arts."

The entries, including nine winners, went on display last week at Maryland Art Place, 218 W. Saratoga St., and will remain on view until Feb. 22.

If any one lesson comes out of this provocative exhibit, it is that there is no one "magic answer" that will save Howard Street, but there are plenty of ideas that together can help change the area for the better.

"The Howard Street of old was generated from an economic reality, which was the cluster of department stores [at Howard and Lexington streets] and the little stores that fed off them," says M. Jay Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., and a juror for the competition.

"That was a big economic idea, but now it's gone and I don't think there is one big idea for Howard Street anymore," Brodie says. "So instead of spending our time trying to find one, what we should be looking for are incremental solutions. That's what these competitors did."

Most of the entries reflect an incremental approach because they are recommendations for specific parts of the corridor rather than the entirety, says Nicole Blumner, one of the competition's organizers.

Marianne Wander and Tom Hootman of Salt Lake City designed a giant wishing well for the southeast corner of Howard and Centre streets -- an "instrument for hope" where visitors presumably could come and wish for Howard Street to get better.

According to their submission, visitors would be able to inscribe "community wishes" along the perimeter of the well for all to see. "A wish creates hope because a wish can come true," they said. "Hope is the beginning of change."

Robert Carpenter of Albuquerque, N.M., proposed "pavilions for storytelling" for the lot next to Lexington Market, while Bo Sun of Ellicott City suggested a "Narrator's Square."

Amy Morton of Baltimore and Naomi Neville of New York City proposed a bread market that would fill the area with the aromas of baked goods -- and lure shoppers from around the region.

Others submitted beautifully rendered studies of new buildings, mostly arts-related, that could fill gaps along the streetscape.

Entries included plans for an arts center, children's museum, "African-American Arts and History House" and a "Baltimore cistern and fountain." Michael Greigg of Silver Spring proposed the Lexington Park and Learning Center -- "an urban experience for all ages."

Titled "Constructive Ideas: Competition for An Urban Corridor," the contest was limited to architects, landscape architects and artists who are within seven years of having completed the first degree in their respective fields.

According to the rules, contestants could suggest improvements for the entire stretch of Howard Street from Pratt Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard, or they could design a building of their choice or a work of art for one of four empty lots along the corridor. Most chose to fill an empty lot.

One proposal that captivated the four-member jury was a plan for a community arts center that would be created on the lot just south of Lexington Arcade.

Designed by Joseph Cellucci (of Marks, Thomas & Associates) and Mark Treon (of Murphy and Dittenhafer), the plan called for stalls to be constructed to house sculptors, printmakers, potters and glass artisans. Additional space would support artists working "in the fields of dance, theater, music and videography."

An "electronic media screen" would be used to project community information, films and "images taken by surrounding surveillance cameras." Marking one entrance to the arts center would be a giant silver egg, possibly symbolizing the embryonic state of Howard Street itself.

Titled "The Eye The Egg The Market," the project is one of two that was singled out for a grand prize and a cash award of $2,500. In some ways, the egg was reminiscent of the giant crab included in a plan by Martha Schwartz that won an ideas competition for the Inner Harbor shoreline several years ago.

"The theme of the market is a very enticing idea," Brodie says of the plan during the jury deliberations. "Taking up the notion of combining the market with a studio workspace could reinforce an idea that has been useful to the area and that works in various ways."

The jurors awarded another $2,500 grand prize to a design for an artist resource center at Park Avenue and Clay Street, by Christopher Hall of Philadelphia.

"This is clearly a plan that works," the jurors said. "These are spaces that we can see ourselves living and working in."

Ricardo Bermudez (of Ayers Saint Gross in Baltimore) won $1,000 for his design of a "social center" at Park Avenue and Clay Street.

The organizing committee plans to hold a forum at which competition winners will speak about their submissions and answer questions, but a date has not been confirmed.

Brodie says that while he could not guarantee any of the projects would be built, he believes many of the entries are worth serious consideration.

"I was delighted to see some new thoughts, especially about the intersection of Clay and Liberty streets, and I commend the young architects for putting forth the time and effort," he says. "The outpouring of ideas, even the ones that didn't win, was a tribute to their creativity."

Maryland Art Place is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A reception for the Constructive Ideas exhibit will be held there on Jan. 11 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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