Friday, October 2, 2015

Baltimore design review rocks

Thursday I spent almost an entire workday on the eighth floor of the Benton building, catty corner from city hall, in what the Planning Department named the Phoebe Stanton Room. Phoebe Stanton was a famed member of a previous incarnation of the Baltimore design review and let me tell you, since Phoebe's days the design review has come a long way.
UDARP heavily critiqued the suggested layout of the Cherry Hill
school project shown as a massing model here with the recreation
center in the background (screenshot by K Philipsen)

Now named UDARP (Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel), the panel consists of these members as taken from the City's UDARP website:

Gary A. Bowden, AIARegistered Architect, Retired from Maryland firm, Retired Professor/Critic from University of Maryland- School of Architecture
Richard Burns, AIARegistered Architect, Practicing architect in Maryland
David Haresign, FAIARegistered Architect, Partner in District of Columbia firm
David A. Rubin, ASLA, FAARRegistered Landscape Architect, Principal in Philadelphia Landscape design firm
Pavlina IlievaTrained Architect, Program Director/Lecturer at Morgan State University - School of Architecture and Planning, Principal in Baltimore Architecture firm 
Judging from my experience yesterday, several prior visits and the regular reporting about their findings, this latest incarnation of the panel has found its groove and is the best it has ever been since I observed design review.
"We received some great feedback from the panel on the open space and completely re-thought how the buildings and the park interface with the waterfront at the southern portion of the site." (Michael Beatty starting off his team's presentation about HarborPoint)
Citing once more from the City Website, this is the purpose of the panel:
The Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel’s goal is to achieve the highest quality for the planned and built environment of Baltimore City .....

..... review process entails presentation interactions between Department staff, the Panel and the professional architects and landscape architects representing project development teams and leads to departmental approvals. The Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel advises the Department of Planning, the Planning Commission and other City agencies on matters of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture and are professional staff of the Department of Planning.
Specifically, the Panel is empowered to provide review and professional design assistance of signature sites, significant projects that are proposed in renewal and/or conservation areas, planned unit developments (PUD), and master plans. City sponsored projects and those in which the City is providing financial or legislative support may be required to have Panel review. Additionally, projects that require zoning changes or variances and/or Planning Commission final design approval may be reviewed by the Panel.
The genesis of the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel began in 1964... In 1997, the Panel was brought to the Department of Planning. 
Over long periods of  that long history, the review was seen as a burden by developers, as confusing by the presenting architects and less than helpful in achieving design excellence by those who wanted higher design standards for new architecture in Baltimore.
The Nelson Kohl apartments on Lanvale Street between Charles and St Paul Streets facing the rear of Penn Station
(screen shot K. Philipsen)

Lately the panel comes to the reviews well prepared (they have a briefing book and often times internal staff briefing beforehand), panel attendance is consistent, and the reviews (each project typically has two reviews, one at schematic design and a final one) build on each other rather than starting all over with totally different criteria as had been the case before. Yesterday the newer panel member and Morgan professor Pavlina IIieva provided particularly precise and insightful comments and suggestions.

In the long list of projects yesterday (Cherry Hill 21st century schools initiative, Nelson Kohl Apartments, Harbor Point PUD and Wills Wharf building, Canton Crossing PUD/Masterplan, HarborPlace redevelopment of the pavilions), all had been before the panel in a previous round and all were full of praise about the useful and constructive critique they had
A massing model of the suggested new PUD for Canton Crossing
(COPT site. Screenshot by K. Philipsen)
received. All had significantly revised their plans as a result and from what I could tell, all for the better.

"You’re building such an incredible amenity that it's not up to Starbucks and Jamba Juice to deliver, this is so much bigger in vision than that. [...] But there is an easy fix to that" (Pavlina Ilieva about Canton Crossing)
"There's a sameness to it and it could be any place," .... "It's a nice anywhere project." David Haresign about HarborPlace)
The panel hadn't been shy telling architects and developers when they thought the plans and designs were bad, and they made them come back for the same round if it had to be, adding significant cost for the developer.
A rendering showing how a streets meets the promenade at

The Baltimore UDARP is a good example how government regulation and oversight can add value and provide a win-win. The benefits of improved solutions on the ground will outweigh the burden of the review many times over, for the public and also for the developers and owners. UDARP also shows that the effectiveness can never been achieved with a soundly written regulation alone but that it is key to have the right people doing the implementation. From a regulatory point of view, UDARP doesn't have teeth. It is advisory only and both, the Planning Director and the Planning Commission could ignore their advice if they chose to do so.

With the substance with which panelists weighed in lately, it it has become quite unlikely that developers, their architects, or the decision makers all the way to the Mayor, will ignore their advice. Good public attendance and thorough reporting by the SUN and especially the BBJ are the result of the meaningful dialogue found in the Stanton Room and will further ensure that the panel won't be overlooked. Furthermore, any time architects are asked to appear before UDARP, they know already beforehand that they won't get away with murder. If things continue this way, Baltimore's design excellence is, indeed, on a positive feedback loop.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Ed Gunts' report about the HarborPoint Pavilion re-design here

The below slides are very instructive and had been prepared by Elkus Manfredi Architects after UDARP requested a comparison of Canton Crossing's COPT development with Harbor East and HarborPoint. They show the footprint of buildings ("figure ground") at various height levels. 

Add caption

Add caption

Add caption

Add caption

Add caption

No comments:

Post a Comment