Sunday, January 15, 2017

Can Retail cubes on Pratt create a "Magnificent Mile"?

The experimentation on how to fix Pratt Street, Light Street and the public spaces around the Inner Harbor continues.

The concrete fountain that has now been flattened with the TransAmerica
Tower in the back
Now that the modernist concrete elements of the McKeldin Fountain have been leveled by weeks of demolition the intersection of Pratt and Light is even more car centric and devoid of "place-making" elements. Architect and urban designer Fred Scharmen who is a professor at Morgan State University says "that whole intersection looks like it's in Rockville or Towson now". I agree that the detractor's of the beton brut fountain never understood how the massive sculptural fountain held the vast spaces together as a vertical anchor.

The new idea: Add modernist cubes to the north side of Pratt on the plaza land that is the block of Charles, Light, Pratt and Lombard Street on which Baltimore's tallest building sits, the Transamerica Tower which was originally built as the US&G Tower.
Site Plan with new retail development (COPT)
Its vast windswept Plaza was already a thorn in the eye of architect David Benn in 1986. When I started working in his firm he asked me to prepare some sketches on filling the plaza and direct pedestrians from the HarborPlace to Charles Street and vice versa. (At the time Charles Street was still considered Baltimore's premier downtown street). I came up with a triangular shaped pavilion along Light Street that guided folks in an angle from the northwest corner of the plaza to the southeast one. But it would take 30 years before there was a taker for the extra space, COPT and its line of cubes.
vast spaces around the tower building (current condition)

COPT's cubes are lining Pratt Street on the south side of the Transamerica Tower, a building by the same development company. The cubes are a refinement of the concept with which COPT beat out two other proposers who had submitted ideas for the extra wide sidewalk space south of the tower last year. COPT's proposal included  a two-story, 23,000-square-foot development with 14,650 square feet of retail space at the ground floor level and an about 9000-square-foot “rooftop” restaurant with a terrace and a rooftop plaza. The City picked the concept in which the developers offered to pay $400,000 for the city land. Construction is anticipated this fall.

The cube concept design was before UDARP last week. The last cube comes with a literal twist, it is rotated 45 degrees. Whether this, too, is a nod to the diagonal direction from HarborPlace to Charles or is just a formal gesture by BCT Architects, I don't know. The cube retail  pretty much blocks a literal diagonal walk line, though.
proposed line of retail cubes: Michigan Avenue? (Rendering BCT architects)

UDARP's Gary Bowden suggested last week to turn that cube in line with the others, a bad idea, from how I see it. The cubes are generic and bland enough, that twist added at least a bit of tension and dynamic. BCT successfully made them heavy enough so they don't get visually "blown away" in the drafty setting surrounded by the clunky seventies concrete architecture. But instead of those attributes retail architect and BCT Principal Bryce Turner spoke, according to the BBJ,  of Michigan Avenue, alluding to Chicago's premier mile of glitz. Not clear, how the cubes get us to that level, but hey, I am all for courageous  aspirations! In the real world smallish retail floors are hard to market and especially those which have no "back of house" space and have to look good on all four sides, instead (service can probably happen through the garage under the tower plaza).


Shopping in Chicago: more people during one light cycle than on Pratt in a day



With just "bump-outs" as the medicine, car-centric Pratt Street will have a really hard time to ever approach the flair of Chicago's "Magnificent Mile".

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated with additional graphics and corrected for image caption for Chicago image

BBJ Nov 17, 2016 about the COPT agreement
BBJ Jan 12, 2017 about UDARP review





Ground level plan (COPT)