RTKL has made mark on region's landscape

The Baltimore Sun

In acquiring RTKL Associates, ARCADIS has purchased not only the largest architectural firm in Maryland but also the one that has changed the local urban landscape more than any other in the past 100 years.

Its contributions range from office towers such as One South Street and Charles Center South to shopping centers in Owings Mills, White Marsh and Towson, and from the Greater Baltimore Medical Center to the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel and the soon-to-open downtown Hilton.

Many of its former employees have started design firms or otherwise assumed influential roles, including Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. "Jay" Brodie; former Rouse Co. design director Lauren B. "Monk" Askew and Baltimore planning director Douglas McCoach.

"RTKL was a training ground for generations of architects in Maryland and beyond," said architect Steve Ziger, who worked for RTKL in the 1970s and is a partner of Ziger/Snead Architects.

In Baltimore, RTKL was heavily involved in both Charles Center and the Inner Harbor, said Martin Millspaugh, former chief executive of Charles Center-Inner Harbor Management Inc. "Their work is all over downtown. ... They've been a strong thread from the beginning right though until today."

The company was founded in 1946 by Princeton graduate Archibald Coleman Rogers in the basement of his grandparents' house at 49 College Ave. in Annapolis. Rogers painted the sign: Archibald Coleman Rogers, Registered Architect. Within a month, he was joined by Francis T. Taliaferro, who soon became a partner. "We opened at 8:30 on the morning of July 1," Rogers, who died in 2001, recalled in a 1996 interview. "I designed the sign, painted it and hung it up. It was my first architectural project."

Work came in gradually at first - a house in Severna Park, a storefront in Annapolis, a county school. In 1949, the partners hired Charles Lamb, an architecture student who became full-time a year later.

The firm was renamed Rogers, Taliaferro & Lamb in 1956. Rogers was the rainmaker and urban designer, Lamb the chief designer, and Taliaferro the glue that held the office together. It moved to Baltimore in the 1950s.

The fourth partner was George Kostritsky, who joined the firm in 1961 and stayed until the early 1970s. In the mid-1960s, an exasperated receptionist shortened it to RTKL.

As the years passed, the architects began to win awards and bigger commissions. One breakthrough project was "the tepee" - a 12-sided, cone-shaped lodge for Girl Scouts built in 1952 in Anne Arundel County. It won a national design award, the company's first. In 1954, when noted architect Pietro Belluschi was chosen to design a new sanctuary for the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore, he asked Rogers and his partners to be his local architects, largely because he was so impressed by the tepee.

The architects secured another significant commission in 1954 when developer James Rouse hired them to design Harundale Mall in Anne Arundel County. It was the beginning of a long and profitable collaboration.

The firm grew significantly after 1967, when the founders hired Harold Adams to manage the business. They named him president a year later. Adams was instrumental in launching RTKL's international initiative.

Even as RTKL gained work around the world, it remained active in Baltimore. Today, the city is a veritable museum of its work, with dozens of major projects complete or under way.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

Sun reporter June Arney contributed to this article.

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