History and Analysis of The Architectural Review Board, Baltimore 1960-85

(Administered by Charles Center — Inner Harbor Management, Inc.)

When the Charles Center Project was launched by the City of Baltimore in June of 1959, the non-profit Charles Center Management Office (CCMO) was retained to manage the development process. The 22-acre Charles Center Project was the City's pioneering, landmark project, and the mandate of the City and the business community was to set the highest possible standard of quality of design and development from the beginning.

In carrying out that mandate, CCMO conducted a national competition to select a developer for the first site — now known as One Charles Center. The competition required developers to submit their qualifications, to prove that they had the capability to develop a top-quality 300,000-sq. ft. office building, along with their architect's qualifications and a conceptual design of their proposed development.

The rules of the competition provided for the development rights to be awarded to the qualified developer who submitted the best design, in the opinion of CCMO's client, the Baltimore Urban Renewal and Housing Agency (now the Department of Housing and Community Development).

Five developers — both from Baltimore and from out-of-town — made submissions. All were judged to be qualified as to their capacity, leaving the choice to be made on the basis of the best conceptual design.

To advise the Agency in making that choice, an architectural design jury was assembled by the Planning Council of the Greater Baltimore Committee — the authors of the Charles Center Plan. The members of the jury were the deans of three of the nation's most prestigious schools of architecture: Pietro Belluschi, of M.I.T.; Vi Hudnut, of Harvard, and G. Holmes Perkins, of the University of Pennsylvania. David A. Wallace, Director of the Planning Council, acted as Secretary.

The jury chose the building design of Mies van der Rohe, then considered the world's leading architect, who was retained by Metropolitan Structures, Inc., of Chicago. After some static over the choice of an out-of-town developer instead of a Baltimore team, the CCMO endorsed the recommendation of Metropolitan Structures and the BURHA Commission made the selection final.

The building known as One Charles Center was completed in 1962 and became a commercial model of Mies' famous Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York. The Baltimore building was later described by Architectural Record as "one of the important U.S. buildings of the 1960's".

(Just last month, a poll of 100 prominent New York real estate leaders voted the1960 Seagram Building second only to the Chrysler Building as their favorite skyscraper in New York, of any period).

As the implementation of the Charles Center project proceeded, the CCMO lined up developers at a surprisingly fast pace, and within three years there were eight other buildings committed. Under the terms of the Charles Center Urban Renewal Plan, CCMO required all developers to follow the urban design standards and controls in the Plan, and, within those restrictions, to submit their architectural plans for approval by the Commission of BURHA at each stage of design.

The Planning Council of the Greater Baltimore Committee was retained as a subcontractor to CCMO, to assist in administering the urban planning and architectural review process, and the members of the jury from the One Charles Center competition were retained as consultants, acting as an Architectural Review Board (ARB), to advise the Planning Council, CCMO and BURHA as to the acceptability of developers' plans.

In 1965, when the City decided to undertake the 300-acre Inner Harbor redevelopment program, consisting of seven additional urban renewal projects, the CCMO was expanded to become Charles Center — Inner Harbor Management, Inc. (CC-IH). The City, acting through HCD, entered into a contract with the new corporation to act as manager of the entire program.

CC-IH ultimately employed its own planning and architectural staff, but the Architectural Review Board continued to serve as its advisory panel -- to review and make recommendations regarding the application of the urban design standards and controls in the Urban Renewal Plans, and -- within the limits established by those controls -- the quality of the developers' architectural designs.

It was the practice of CC-IH to have the ARB review a conceptual version of the design of each project before making a financial deal involving a development commitment on behalf of the City. In that way, the City's representatives retained the upper hand in urban design and planning negotiations with would-be developers.
The reasons for continuing the ARB were clear: their combined seniority and experience enabled them to judge developers' design submissions in the light of recognized international standards of excellence, and their prestige within the profession made their recommendations unassailable by even the most famous of the architects who appeared before them.

During the tenure of the ARB between 1960 and 1990, the Charles Center and Inner Harbor projects won more than 35 national or international awards for excellence of design and/or development. More than 50 architects' plans were reviewed, including five A.I.A. Gold Medal winners and two additional Gold Medal architectural firms.
During that time, the makeup of the ARB changed with the availability of the original members, and the size was increased to five members because of the occasional difficulty of arranging meetings. Meanwhile, the City Planning Department formed a second Design Advisory Panel (DAP) of Baltimore design professionals, to review the plans of architects and developers of sites outside the Charles Center and Inner Harbor project areas.

Between 1990 and 1995, CC-IH was superseded by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), and in 1997, BDC and the Planning Department agreed to combine the two review panels into one DAP, to be administered by the Department of Planning. In October, 2004, that panel was renamed the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel and given a revised scope and procedures by the Mayor and the Planning Commission — the arrangement which is in effect as of this writing in January, 2006.


Recommendations for the Creation of a Design Review Panel

Composition

The Panel should be limited to no more than five members, with the proviso that at least three should form a quorum.

There should be some members who have national or international experience and stature — as either architects or urban planners.

Process

The Client should codify and publish the legal sources of authority for design review and approval, with references to the specific standards and controls that are in effect in the various Urban Renewal and PUD Plans, historic preservation restrictions, zoning variations and exceptions, subdivision regulations, etc.

The Panel's procedures for submissions in the concept stage should be strictly enforced, and prior conceptual approval by the Panel should be a requirement for consideration of a development proposal by all City agencies.

Method

Legislation should be prepared to close any loopholes that enable projects to avoid review.

Some agency should have the role of monitoring the compliance of all projects that affect the built environment of the City, and keep track of the status of the Panel's review requirements.

Transparency

Conduct meetings in public, including questions from the panel and comments from the audience, but reserve the panelists' comments for executive session, where they can be summarized in one joint, consistent statement.

Provide the Panel or the Client with a civic design advisory board representing the public, the profession, the neighborhoods and the business community, to make recommendations that may be outside the professional scope of the UDARP Panel.

The Conceptual Plan

The most important, first stage of urban design — the conceptual stage — determines the ultimate character and proportions of a project, and must therefore be given a meaningful review by a Panel. The entire process will break down if the Client agrees to the urban design character of a project before the Panel has an opportunity to give it an objective review. The Client needs to resist the temptation to agree to a business deal without the negotiating tool represented by the Review Panel.

by Martin Millspaugh
12/31/2007