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Urban visions are RTKL's stock in trade

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David C. Hudson can't swim, vault or sprint like an Olympian, but he has already made his mark on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

His specialty? Urban visions.

Hudson, 56, runs RTKL Associates Inc., a Baltimore-based international architecture and design firm that won the equivalent of a gold medal in 2001 when Chinese officials selected it to draw up a master plan for the Beijing International Sports and Exhibition Center, a virtual city within a city intended to house the 2008 Games.

"Winning the competition ... raised our profile in Beijing as well as China," Hudson said.

From Baltimore to Beijing, RTKL has been leaving footprints around the globe for nearly two decades.

The company, started in an Annapolis basement nearly 60 years ago, has designed skyscrapers in Indonesia and Poland, posh hotels in the Grand Caymans and the Netherlands, and entire sections of cities in Germany and Puerto Rico.

RTKL has grown into one of the world's largest architectural and design firms with 705 employees in 10 offices in cities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Madrid, London and Shanghai. Its specialties range from urban planning to designing skyscrapers, shopping malls and hospitals, and now, Olympic venues.

"They have really grown into an international powerhouse," said John D. Anderson, senior vice president of Denver-based AndersonMasonDale Architects and a former president of the American Institute of Architects. "They are absolutely top drawer."

Says Hudson: "We want to establish ourselves as the premier design firm in the world."

The firm may well be on its way, having been involved in some high-profile jobs. It planned and designed Reston Town Center in Virginia, a pioneering development that transported an urban setting to the suburbs. It designed the Salamanca Rail Station in Salamanca, Spain, and was hired as the architects, engineers and landscapers for the Singapore Embassy in Washington.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, RTKL was selected to help redesign the damaged portion of the Pentagon. It also designed the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, which is three stories deep, at the foot of the Capitol.

In Baltimore, RTKL's work dots the city from the 30-story One South St. building that was Alex. Brown Inc.'s headquarters, to Charles Center South and the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Inner Harbor. It also designed the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.

"Certainly they are one of the foremost architectural firms in this country and around the world," said Martin Millspaugh, former chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc., the forerunner of Baltimore Development Corp. "They did a lot of buildings in the Inner Harbor, they did the plazas in Charles Center. Their stamp is all over downtown in many projects."

Some of the firm's most impressive recent work is being done 7,000 miles away in China. In addition to the Olympic center, the firm designed the Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology, which was the site of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation World Summit in 2001; the Chinese Museum of Film in Beijing; entire blocks of Shanghai; and a waterfront tourist resort in Shenzhen.

"In China there are quite a lot of American architect offices, but I think this [RTKL] is the best-quality architecture," said Zheng Shiling, professor and director of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Space at Tongji University and president of the Architectural Society of Shanghai. "They are very rational, not so commercialized. They respect the Chinese culture and they know Shanghai very well."

Hudson expects his firm, which has 15 employees in its Shanghai office, to have three offices in China within two years and 100 to 200 employees. The potential is "huge," he said.

"The opportunity is such that we want to be there in a big way," said Paul F. Jacob III, RTKL's chairman. "You just can't fight the demographics. If the 19th century was Europe and the 20th century was America, I think the next century is China."

Jacob expects RTKL's China office to be the biggest in the company. Already, China represents the third-largest source of revenue overseas behind the United Kingdom and Japan. Last year, revenue from China totaled about $3.6 million, or 12 percent of the company's international work, which came to $30 million.

When Archibald Rogers opened the company's doors in his grandmother's basement in Annapolis in 1946, it was unthinkable that RTKL would one day become an international architectural power.

But the firm grew quickly. Soon after opening, Rogers expanded, adding Francis Taliaferro, a World War II Marine captain who responded to an ad for a draftsman.

The two men remodeled houses and small buildings and, in 1949, hired Charles Lamb, a talented designer then still in college. One of Lamb's first jobs was to design the Teepee Lodge for the Girl Scouts of Anne Arundel County. The lodge won an award from the American Institute of Architects.

Business began to pick up as the firm was selected to designed Harundale Mall, the East Coast's first enclosed shopping center, for James Rouse, the developer of Columbia; the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on Charles Street; and the Goucher College student center.

In 1961, the firm hired urban design specialist George Kostritsky, a Harvard University professor, and changed its name to Rogers, Taliaferro, Kostritsky and Lamb. Seven years later, an exasperated receptionist who had trouble pronouncing the names shortened it to RTKL. The new name stuck.

Letter from Toronto

As business picked up, the architects had a difficult time juggling work and the day-to-day operations of a growing firm. In 1967, the partners hired Harold L. Adams to manage the business and named him president a year later.

Adams not only managed the operation, but also is credited with launching RTKL's international business one day when he answered a letter from a person in Toronto.

The letter was sent by an associate of Yoshiaki Tsutsumi of Tokyo, the wealthy chairman of a large railway company and a hotel and golf course operator. Tsutsumi was considered the world's richest man in 1990 with a fortune of about $16 billion.

Before Adams and three others left for Tokyo in 1987 to meet Tsutsumi, they studied Japanese customs, religion, culture, how to eat and drink, and even present a business card.

"Every little detail," said Adams, who is chairman emeritus and ran the firm for more than 30 years.

Within a couple of months, requests to do projects came rolling in from Tsutsumi.

"That really opened the world for us," Adams said. "They really gave us a big boost in getting started internationally."

Word spread in Asia about RTKL's work and the firm opened offices in Tokyo and London in 1990. Adams and other RTKL executives began meeting with businessmen, developers and government officials throughout China. They learned Chinese customs and ate Chinese delicacies. Adams dined on snake, mountain frog, pig intestines and duck feet.

The firm's first project in China came from a Hong Kong client in 1993, who wanted to develop a large retail project called the Sun Dong An Plaza in Beijing. "It was designed and built very quickly," Adams said. "That gave us very early credibility."

The firm was selected to work on bigger projects, including the Oriental Music Center in Shanghai and the Chinese Museum of Film in Beijing.

But the biggest win came in June 1998, when RTKL was selected over eight other companies to design the Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology.

It was "a huge breakthrough for us," said Adams, who unveiled the project in a ceremony in Shanghai in 1998 with President Bill Clinton and the city's mayor. "It got us the recognition from the highest levels of the Chinese government. That really put us on the map."

20 projects

It also helped the company gain enough recognition to compete to design the Olympics sports and exhibition center. In turn, that competition helped the company win a project redesigning a large area in downtown Beijing.

Today, the company has at least 20 projects under way in China.

Hudson isn't sure he will attend the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, but he is satisfied knowing RTKL had a small part in helping the Chinese land the Olympics.

"What is happening right now is we and many other firms are helping shape a whole country," Hudson said. "It is exciting to be a part of."

About RTKL Associates Inc.

Headquarters: Baltimore

Executives: David C. Hudson, president and chief executive; Paul F. Jacob III, chairman

Employees: 705

Offices: 10

Gross revenue: $61 million *

Equity: $10 million

Assets: $65 million

* For first half of year

Source: RTKL

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