Monday, April 6, 2015

Sparks or Inner Harbor? - Sparks!

Only locals can truly appreciate the full flavor of these two choices. Baltimore's Inner Harbor or Sparks, MD, a place in Baltimore County that marks the northern boundary of suburban sprawl shortly before it hits the rural urban demarcation line.

The choice between these two, oh-so-different, locations had to be made by the national Lacrosse organization US Lacrosse Inc. when they had to decide where to build their national headquarters.
Naturally, they picked....of course, Sparks!
Planned Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, MD per a rendering published
in the Baltimore Business Journal

Thanks to an article by Kevin Litten from the Baltimore Business Journal we know what was on the minds of the Lacrosse captains: Sparks has more parking and they can own there whereas at the Inner Harbor they would have had to lease. Who can quibble with such sound reasoning? Their choice and the design they picked clearly shows, US Lacrosse Inc. is not encumbered by considerations of urban planning or architecture.

At the Inner Harbor they would have occupied a piece of land that in 1993 masterplanners had set aside as open space that could surround a "world-class signature building" like the Sidney Opera House.  One will recall that the Sidney Opera became a worldwide icon for Sidney's Harbor.

Once considered Lacrosse headquarters at the Inner Harbor
(image from ASG website)
The Baltimore architecture firm of ASG worked for years on a design for the Lacrosse headquarters to become just such an iconic structure, an appropriate idea, since Maryland and Baltimore are considered ground zero for Lacrosse, a sport gaining  popularity  every year.

The Sparks location fits well into a setting of flex warehouses and bland speculative office buildings.

Has nobody told US Lacrosse Inc. that those zones are not anymore where it is at?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author participated in the creation of the first Planned Unit Development plan (PUD in 1993 that preserved a 6 acre open space on the 26 acre former Allied Signal brownfield, a peninsula located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, later proposed as a Lacrosse site by ASG Architects.

updated for spelling/grammar 16:47h
Sidney icon (Image: Creative Commons)

1 comment:

  1. As director of development for US Lacrosse (and a regular reader of your writing), I can assure you that US Lacrosse did take into consideration "urban planning and architecture" in planning for its new headquarters. In fact, the organization spent seven years and a considerable amount of money trying to figure out how to make the Harbor Point site work for the organization and as a new icon for the city. During that time, the sport continued to grow, the size of the staff nearly doubled, and the national economy tanked.

    Ultimately, as you noted, the decision to move to Sparks hinged, in part, on financial considerations. As a non-profit, US Lacrosse has a fiduciary responsibility to the more than 450,000 members and donors in 69 chapters around the country who support it. The reality is, they're understandably less concerned with iconic structures than with effective, efficient service and a prudent managing of finances. It is no small matter to raise tens of millions of dollars in capital and operating costs for a building on a leased site and a field that would have been managed by someone else. (Indeed, as nice as Harbor Point will be, I can imagine future tenants and visitors will be grateful for an open 9 acre park rather than a lacrosse field with the likes of Paul Rabil firing lacrosse balls in excess of 100 mph on it.)

    Meanwhile, a closer examination of the Sparks site reveals a design that borrows elements from Camden Yards (a promenade gathering space with statuary and memorials overlooking the playing field and connecting the stands with the Hall of Fame museum and offices) and from "bank" barns found throughout northern Baltimore County (the first level of the building, which contains locker rooms and training facilities, opens directly onto the field; staff and visitors enter on the second level). Taken as a whole, the campus, with its mix of building and field, provides a good transition from the heavily developed area around Hunt Valley to the rural landscape just to the north.

    Finally, whatever else one may say about the Sydney Opera House, everyone agrees its acoustics are horrible. How does a building that fails horribly at its principle function become an example for others to follow?