Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New McKeldin Plaza Design Unveiled

The Downtown Partnership unveiled the new design of the McKeldin Plaza in a meeting of their new offices. The plan is supposed to be developed in three phases.
The designers are Ayers Saint Gross, Mahan Rykiel landscape architects, and Ziger Snead who developed a water feature designated to honor former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor McKeldin.

Jonathan Ceci from Ayers Saint Gross explained the overall concept and stressed how the proposed design builds on the previous concepts for Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor going back to 2002, 2008 and 2013. He particularly emphasized how the design tries to rectify traffic flaws that made the McKeldin Plaza a traffic island.
Richard Jones of MRA explained the landscape design. The three principles and goals he stressed where to make a civic space, a gateway and stitch spaces together that were separated.He noted the forms of the slopes of Federal Hill as a notable and typical Baltimore landscape precedent which then found an application in the proposed design through a saddle shape with raised edges.He admitted that the current fountain had "a scale to it" that will now be repalced with a "much more modest amenity".
Steve Ziger explained how he learned about the extraordinaire political figure of McKeldin that will be honoered with elements of source (a stone with a quaote the brings the idea of the Inner Harbor as a vision back to McKeldin), flow ( a water feature along the diagonal line flowing towards the harbor) and a timeline which shows the steps from the vision in 1963 onward.

A rendering of the proposed design looking in from Pratt Street near the corner with Light

The main diagonal pedestrian and view connection from Pratt and Light (top left) to Harborplace in plan view with
the linear water feature and vertical water screen.

After the presentation the about 40-50 participants who followed the DPoB invitation  were divided into three groups to discuss the proposed design. 
The three groups were appreciative of the intents and concepts but critical about the phasing ("will we ever get beyond phase 1 which maintains the Calvert connector roadway?") and critical about traffic, programming and the lack of a real "wow factor". 


a view of the suggested water screen

The following series of screen shots show how the presentation developed the suggested design from analysis and objectives represented in various diagrams below.
An overview of the design objectives: Civic space, gateway and stitch

A diagram of existing problems

the concept of the saddle shape

this slide shows the dashed outline of the existing fountain and how it would sit in
the proposed new northbound lanes of Light Street

Steve Ziger explains the point of source for his water feature, a square rock with a McKeldin
quote inscribed that describes the 1963 vision of a new Baltimore waterfront

Jonathan Ceci explains how Phase 1 of the design demos the existing fountain and maintains the Calvert connector. 
Overall, the design is predicated on the conclusion of traffic engineers that once the Calvert connector would be eliminated, the remaining Light Street would need to meet Pratt Street with seven lanes, three northbound and four lanes southbound. This is two more lanes than the southbound portion of Pratt Street has today and requires the demolition of the existing fountain to be accommodated.

One observation had to do with McKeldin Plaza as a space of public gathering and speech as, for example, during the Occupy events. (HarborPlace, by contrast is technically not a public space and certain freedom of speech restrictions apply there). The new design blurs those distinctions. Several comments dealt with the current fountain and the regret that maintaining it was not studied.

As a public space in Baltimore's "living room" (the local architect David Benn) the space requires a public discourse about what should happen here.  DPoB as the "client" for the design firms and the organizer of past events about Pratt Street and Harbor 2.0 maintains that the past meetings introduced the concept of a demolished fountain and enlarged plaza and that those meetings were public. 

According to my information, DPoB intends to present the design concepts to UDARP, the city's design review panel. Additionally, Nan Rohrer of DPoB indicated more discussion about the traffic concepts.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Updated several times. last 5/13 9:34h

The quote attributed to me in the early online and print versions of the SUN is not quite correct. I made four comments during the group session:
1. The emphasis on "gateway" meaning how you arrive from the interstate via Conway Street is overstated. The designers own diagram emphasizes the real importance, which is the diagonal pedestrian connection from Harboplace towards Charles Street and deeper into the city.
2. The emphasis of the current design was also that connection and view for which the current fountain provided a "cradle" and protective backdrop. The saddle shape of the proposed design tries to provide this third dimension also, but the resulting vertical edges may again present a problem at least along the Pratt Street side blocking visibility.
3. We should not accept the proposed seven lanes of traffic on Light Street. If we don't reduce those highways around the inner Harbor (Pratt, Light and Key Hwy) we have not solved the fundamental problem of isolating the harbor by traffic as expressed by Adam Gross in his presentations on Harbor 2.0. 
4. The fountain should not be demolished before the final phase is funded and guaranteed. (If Light Street has fewer lanes the demolition is not a prerequisite of the reorganized traffic). 


  1. Where do the Jones Falls and Gwynns Falls Trails go from this plan? Currently they meet at this intersection