Monday, October 5, 2015

The Double Speak of the new HarborPlace Design

Ed Gunts gives us a pretty accurate description of what Ashenazy wants to do with the HarborPlace pavilions, so I don't need to repeat this here.

But Gunts refrained from expressing any opinion about the design. Those are plentiful in the comments that the Brew has approved to show up below the article. Most are full of the provincial disdain for those others who come to Baltimore to visit and go, arrgh, to the Inner Harbor, a place where many true in the blood Baltimoreans wouldn't want to be caught dead.
Tourists at the Inner Harbor (photo: ArchPlan)

In this "us versus the world" view there is no need to even look at the design because a true Baltimoron can't go where those "obese hypoglycemic Suburbanite Blobs strolling around in cargo shorts, Confederate flag tee shirts and NRA baseball caps - as they suck soda through a straw from their plastic 84 ounce "Big Burp" cups" are present according to a true urbanite writing under the pseudonym, get this: Boarhunter II. one can't make this up.

I attended the presentation at UDARP and think we should take a hard look at the design though. Of course, the first thing that is somewhat disappointing is that nobody suggested that it maybe time to just get rid of the pavilions altogether, not even in the long and far reaching Harbor 2.0 plans. Except, there is Boarhunter II, of course. In his words: "Let's clear everybody out of the place and blow it to smithereens, allowing it to return to being a rat infested, stinking but PRODUCTIVE WHARF that remained quiet and idle on Saturdays and Sundays - except for a few bums warming themselves in the steam grates along Pratt Street, and some weary strippers from the Block shambling home on Sunday morning after pulling an all-nighter, followed by bags of belly burners for breakfast from the Little Tavern". (Boarhunter apparently taking a page not only from Hunter S. Thompson but also from Charles Bukowski).

But seriously, in 1980 when Harborplace opened, there was no shopping anywhere and Pratt Street was mostly just offices. No glitzy Harbor East, no Gallery, no PowerPlant and no Powerplant Live. With all this now around, do we really need to buy knickknacks and handbags right at the water's edge? Do we really still need these Festival Markets that failed in so many other places? As another commenter observes: "We are a capricious people. Notice Paris never redoes the Eiffel tower nor Rome the Colosseum, but in America we get tired of our cheesy faux art and the stuccoed buildings". Ok, these pavilions were never stuccoed, but even though they became prototypes for replicas all the way to Sidney, Australia, they are, indeed, not on par with the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. There is no need to offer structures that evoke the old sheds of the working harbor or to have any more public market style "food halls", which incidentally are all the rage again. Instead a bit more civic space at the water's edge may be a good thing. Of course, Ashkenazi isn't going to give up on these commercial spaces, and so, once more, let's look at the actual design ideas they propose:
Ashkenazy rendering of the Pratt Street Pavilion

I got the impression that there was a lot of double speak. The designers talked much about  "recreating Harborplace as a place for the locals." (and yes, locals DID go to HarborPlace originally and the food places were local) and  they talked about "cleaning up the sheds and emphasizing the original design."

But what they proposed was neither for locals nor was it an architectural clean-up. They would keep all the national chains in place and architecturally they would replace one type of clutter (awnings, glasshouses) with another (steel frames, wood panels, big roof signs that say "HarborPlace"). In the process they take the relatively clean post-modern structures with their nautical touches and apply the wallpapers of the latest material trends of the notoriously fake world of retail. 
Proposed Pratt Street Pavilion design (Ashkenazy)

"There's a sameness to it and it could be any place," .... "It's a nice anywhere project." David Haresign about HarborPlace)

The thing I really liked in the design proposal was the elimination of the interior mall walk on the ground level of the east shed in favor of only exterior access and more attention to making the backsides of the sheds more attractive. 

If we can't get rid of the sheds altogether, what I would like to see here is less Chicago Navy Pier, less San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf and more working harbor like Portland, Maine. A real fish market, local specialty seafood restaurants and water transport. I would love to see the elimination of all merchandise and hokey entertainment like Ripley's that isn't related to water and Baltimore. 

I think it is high time that Baltimore's Inner Harbor re-orients itself to the water, to its origins as a working harbor, to boats, fish and water transportation.  And that reorientation should be combined with a serious road diet for Pratt and Light Streets and Key Highway allowing locals better access to the water.

In the process the McKeldin Fountain should be retained, its surroundings upgraded. The
Ashkenazy rendering of the Light Street Pavilion (ArchPlan screen shot)
Waterfront Partnership's new approach to Rash Field that eliminates the garage, keeps volleyball and intends to take a low key approach to the redesign which leaves the original concept of a "passive" space that can accommodate all kinds of locally oriented activities, is a step in the right direction.

It took strong local intervention to get there. Maybe that is what is also needed to get the pavilions and the McKeldin Plaza right. Participation of locals, not the blasé attitude that the Inner Harbor isn't for Baltimoreans.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

See also my earlier blogs about the Inner Harbor:

No comments:

Post a Comment