City OKs visitors center design


Baltimore still is a year away from getting a new master plan for the Inner Harbor, but one important element already is falling into place.

The city's Design Advisory Panel has approved preliminary plans for a $4.6 million visitors center that will be constructed on the west shore of the Inner Harbor, just south of the Light Street pavilion of Harborplace.

Drawings by Design Collective Inc., the architect, show a glass pavilion containing exhibit space, a small theater and staff offices. It will rise from a granite base that doubles as a public viewing platform, and its signature feature will be a wavy metal roof that makes it easy to spot from a distance, while shading people inside.

The architects made the walls mostly glass so the building doesn't form a solid wall between the harbor and the area to the west. They say they were particularly concerned about not blocking views of the harbor for people heading east on Conway Street.

"We see this as a strong gateway to the Inner Harbor," architect Chris Harvey said. "From a number of places, you really will be able to see through it. We want to make it as open and glassy and light as possible."

The Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has been trying for years to create a full-fledged "welcome center" to replace a prefabricated construction trailer on the Inner Harbor shoreline, and the design panel's approval is a key step. Construction is expected to begin this summer and to be completed by early 2003.

The design is the latest of many different proposals for the west shore, which was identified as the best location for a visitors center in a 1995 study. The Baltimore Development Corp. plans to hire design consultants this year to revise the Inner Harbor master plan by mid-2003, but they won't be asked to revisit plans for the visitors center.

The wavy roof in the latest design can be seen as a nautical reference, but the architects say it also grew out of an effort to reflect the change in scale from the high-rise buildings on the north side of Pratt Street to the public park proposed for the area between Harborplace and the Maryland Science Center.

The roof's high point is on the end facing the downtown skyline, while the lower end faces the park.

The design team has worked to reduce the building's size so it stays within the city's construction budget. As a result, "it's gotten simpler and more pure" in terms of its form and the number of elements in the project, said design team member Rob Hollis.

The latest design calls for a pavilion with 7,950 square feet of space on one level, down from a high of 14,000 square feet on two levels, he said.

Boiardi moves to Baltimore

Mario H. Boiardi, a highly-respected architect in Washington, D.C., has left his job there to become a design principal of RCG Inc. in Baltimore, starting today.

Educated at Princeton, Boiardi, 53, worked with Hartman Cox Architects for 27 years and has been instrumental in much of its best work, particularly for educational and cultural institutions. He was a lead designer of the $40 million law school that the University of Maryland is opening in Baltimore in June - a joint effort of Hartman Cox and RCG.

Jonathan Fishman, principal of RCG, worked at Hartman Cox from 1987 to 1992 and said Boiardi was his mentor when he was there. Fishman said he was delighted to have a chance to work with Boiardi again on the law school commission, and began talking to him about the possibility of joining RCG. He sees Boiardi's move as a coup for his firm and for Baltimore in general.

"It's incredible to have someone of his caliber leave his job as a principal at one of the most prestigious firms in Washington to become a principal of a firm in Baltimore," he said. "I don't think there's anybody in town who has a resume like Mario's."

Lecture series

New York-based architect Deborah Berke will be the first speaker in the Spring Lecture Series sponsored by the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Each of the series' four lectures will begin at 6 p.m. at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, on Wednesdays in March and April. The lecturers generally speak about their own work and other design topics.

The head of Deborah Berke Architect since 1982, Berke has designed a wide range of residential and commercial projects. She also teaches at Yale University and was co-editor of the book Architecture of the Everyday. Her lecture will be held on March 13.

Other lectures in the series:

Paul Spencer Byard will give the Michael F. Trostel Memorial Lecture on Historic Preservation on March 27. Byard is a principal of Platt, Byard, Dovell Architects in New York City; director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University; and author of a 1988 book titled The Architecture of Additions: Design and Regulation. His talk is co-sponsored by Preservation Maryland.

Rod Kruse, a principal of the Iowa-based firm of Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck and chairman of the Design Advisory Team for the city of Des Moines, Iowa, will speak on April 10. Last year, his company received the AIA Firm Award, one of the industry's highest national honors. The firm is particularly well known for its ability to design attractive parking garages.

Dominique Perrault, an award winning architect from Paris, will give the final talk on April 17. He was worked on such notable buildings as the French National Library in Paris and the Velodrome and Olympic Aquatics Center in Berlin.

Series tickets for all four lectures cost $35 for members of the AIA, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, and $40 for non-members. Tickets for individual lectures cost $12, or $8 for seniors and students with a valid ID. For information, call the AIA at 410-625-2585.

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