The TransForm Baltimore project is implementing new design standards to update the city's look: we asked three designers to tell us about Charm City's aesthetic appeal.
Brown, who has lived in the city for seven years, is the director of digital design at advertising agency Planit, where she creates graphics and websites for clients like Harbor East, the city's glitzy new waterfront neighborhood.
Based on looks alone, what are your favorite places in Baltimore?
"Baltimore is an eclectic city. There's the architecture at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art] with its old historic buildings, but also its modern, sleek buildings. That juxtaposition is quintessential Baltimore."
Any parts of Baltimore that inspire your work?
"Our office overlooks the Inner Harbor. The waterfront area—especially with recent changes—is full of life and movement. That vibrancy is something I try to incorporate into my design."
What do you think TransForm Baltimore will mean for the city's look?
"It could do wonders for Baltimore's visuals. Green landscapes will complement the waterfront and architecture perfectly. It's that missing piece of Baltimore's puzzle, and I think the greenery will encourage people to stay and linger downtown."
Design-wise, what makes Baltimore special?
"It comes down to Baltimore having small-town charm. There are so many unique neighborhoods in close proximity. You can begin your day seeing a new neighborhood in Harbor East, walk to historic Fells Point for dinner, hop in cab to go to Hampden for a quirky, eclectic nightcap. They're all close together, but all so different."
Rykiel is the executive vice president and owner of Mahan Rykiel Associates, a landscape architecture firm that designs resorts, campuses, hospitals, parks, streetscapes and private gardens around the globe. He's traveled the world since joining the firm as a partner in '93, but nothing comes close to his hometown.
What's a local design standout?
"We loved building Pierce's Park, a unique playground in the Inner Harbor. They really wanted the park to be about discovery and risk and not have the typical equipment. We worked with local artists to develop pieces to be climbed on and played in. The other initiative there was to be sustainable, using native plants and old cobbles to create the benches. It's rewarding to see the community there."
Any local Baltimore secrets?
"An undiscovered gem is the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens in Druid Hill Park—it's quiet and in one of the best parks in the city. It's all climate-controlled, so there's a desert room, Mediterranean room, tropical room and palm house."
How is Baltimore different from other cities?
"The city's uniqueness is the gritty, urban fabric of it—the quirkiness. It's rare that you find true neighborhoods like you do here. You can't make Hampden up. Or Fells Point. DC is very hip and happening, but you never sense the neighborhoods. It always seems like people are in transition. But in Baltimore, you feel like it's a city that's livable and people are here for the long run."
A fashion designer who owns her own, eponymous label and does wardrobe styling, Bent is originally from Virginia but has lived in Baltimore since 2006. Her collection—which she describes as "minimalist high-fashion that's easy and comfortable"—has been shown at Baltimore Fashion Week and is sold at www.juliebent.com.
What are some of your favorite Charm City charms?
"A lot of the stuffI like about Baltimore is history focused. There's an old walking plaza just east of Lexington Market. I love the Howard Street Bridge. The classic blue and yellow bridge is so Baltimore.
The Domino Sugar sign always strikes me because it reminds me of Baltimore's history and a time when industry was big. And the fact that the factory is still running is amazing."
Are your designs influenced by the city?
"I'm definitely connected to the 1920s-era stuff. I like to think about summers in the '20s at Druid Hill Park, with the pool there— its design is very art deco. Folks would flock there for summer to get shade and the pool."
What would you like to see TransForm Baltimore transform?
"I hope it encourages people to have more local and small businesses—like districts like Hampden and Hamilton-Lauraville area. I just know it would open up more doors for people like me and other freelance folks to have retail space. The mixed-use idea is a very modern mentality—there are so many creative people who are trying to do galleries in their homes, there's definitely a need for that."