Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Phase one is a waste of money". What UDARP says about the newMcKeldinSquare design

The much debated design for the new McKeldin Plaza, commissioned by the Downtown Partnership (DPoB) and executed by the firms of Ayers Saint Gross (ASG), Mahan Rykiel (MRA) and Ziger, Snead came finally before the city design review performed by the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel (UDARP) today. And with it came a new debate thanks to an AIA resolution that says, no demolition before a replacement is funded. The panel seemed to come to a similar conclusion.

The review has been originally scheduled for May but was delayed after a presentation at DPoB in early May yielded many comments that sent the design team back to the drawing boards. The modifications were not shared until the UDARP review today.

The American Institute of Architects' resolution which is based on the publicly known design. (the resolution is shown in full below). Key concern: Will Baltimore lose the McKeldin fountain while the traffic surrounding it remains unchanged and phase 1 may be the final outcome? Kirby Fowler of DPoB took issue with that. Fowler stated in a response sent to AIA:
We agree on many points, and, in fact, we have satisfied nearly all of the goals set forth in the AIA statement,  However, the statement does contain one major proposition that goes far beyond current real estate practices, economic development principles, and existing law.  The statement effectively calls for evidence of full funding of every phase of the McKeldin project before any phase can proceed.   
The Baltimore BBJ made the AIA resolution the centerpiece of a morning article.

At the UDARP presentation Ms McKenzie Paull introduced the project on behalf of DPoB with these words:
"DPoB believes that McK Plaza is the maybe the most important civic space. And if it isn't it has the potential to be it". 

The design team said in their presentation that they had wrestled with the concepts of "path and place." The water wading pool was widened to 10'. The face of the southern tip of the triangle further studied and the pedestrian north-south route through the plaza strengthened by removing a stormwater feature. A bus stop was moved away from the plaza area. 

The existing 24,000 SF of paved space of today's design was increased to 28,000 SF for the final build-out when the street would be closed but in phase 1 there would be actually less paved area then today, a fact that led to considerable debate.

Proposed new design (end stage)

Here is what the UDARP members had to say about the refined design:

Gary Bowden: "There is a conflict between what is a public space and what is a threshold to a tourist area and what is a memorial. Those three functions get confused with a tendency towards tourist threshold." In his plea for a strong public function he exclaimed: "If this really is a public destination it should have a public transit accommodation, not moving the bus stop away".

Richard Burns was also very critical: "There seems to be lack of cohesion. I can't see how this comes together compositionally". "This is still mostly 'directional". Further he felt that the desighn was not creative enough. He said: "I have an issue with water wall: I have seen it before, even in a Marriott. Shouldn't aMcKeldin memorial be more specific in light of his civil rights contributions?" Later he added he found the design "too commercial".  He said, "I am still not convinced of the tilted lawn, I have seen this a lot as well. What is it what makes this design uniquely Baltimore?"  He doesn't regret the demise of the old fountain, though. About it he said, "it doesn't rise to the level of a Tivoli fountain" but he suspects that with the proposed design "one wall [of the old fountain] was replaced with another". He stated that he is troubled "that we spend a lot of money on something that in phase one is really not better than the current situation". "I am concerned about the phasing, you are not providing a meaningful civic space in phase 1. You have too many cliches".  

Gary Bowden agreed that "one doesn't get enough out of phase one and two to warrant the project". "That phase 1 space is so much smaller than what you have today on the other side where Santa Claus sits, it shows how small this really is", he observed. "The message is, go through here, but don't stay too long".  With all the extra trees "you also may have blocked the view of the Constellation." 

David Rubin was generally more impressed by the design, he summed it up this way: "A person should be memorialized with a space in which people gather. What you have is interesting. The people will be what makes it Baltimore. But you are too weak in enclosing the space". 

David Haresign, like the Rubin a landscape architect was also less critical: "You have a strong design for the final design". But in his final statement, he found the maybe strongest words: Phase 1 and 2 is a waste of money and it looks like you just wanted to create a clean slate". He added, "It's an unfortunate use of money to have to trash so much of the work of phase 1 and 2 when you complete phase 3". About the current fountain and condition, he was quite clear though: "The current condition is pretty horrible". 

The tilted lawn and its southern tip. 

The south side of the fountain described by DPoB as
unwelcoming and a poor gateway

A view of the McKeldin Fountain with the original Inner Harbor
frame buildings in the background

McKeldin Fountain form the McKeldin Plaza side along Pratt Street

AIA Resolution

Rendering of the "water all"

Phase 1 design: there is no assurance
that the road space will ever be closed.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I am co-chair of the AIA Urban Design 

The text was updated and revised for language, clarity and spelling at 18:23h since the original text was prepared during the presentation.

Please excuse the poor picture quality of images photographed off the presentation screen

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