The classic Baltimore bench, which won't be used in Port Covington.
The classic Baltimore bench, which won’t be used in Port Covington.

Will Baltimore get The Cleat? Could it be The Stoop? What about The Riga?

Those are the names of the benches picked as finalists in a national competition launched this year to find “the next great Baltimore bench” that would be installed in the Port Covington development.

Sagamore Development Company, the real estate arm of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and developer of more than 260 acres in Port Covington, joined with the Baltimore Office of Promotion + the Arts to hold the competition.

Sagamore vice president Caroline Paff explained Sagamore’s search for the next great Baltimore bench during a meeting of the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.

“The Port Covington project is ‘of Baltimore’ and we want to engage all of Baltimore in the open space plan,” she said. “We believe the next great park bench is a great way to do that.”

The Port Covington redevelopment area includes Under Armour’s new global headquarters and acres of waterfront parkland along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

The competition was billed as a “call for ideas.” The competition brief stated that “there is no commitment on behalf of Sagamore or BOPA to produce or develop any design or proposal received.”

The idea behind the competition is that it may yield a bench design that could be fabricated and installed throughout Port Covington. The designers were asked to think about what it will mean to “sit on a bench” in Baltimore’s newest waterfront development and use that to inform their work.

“BOPA and Sagamore hope the competition will result in the design, development and manufacture of an original and contemporary solution to a public street bench,” the competition brief stated, continuing: “The ideal bench would be useful, beautiful and specific to Baltimore so that it can be installed throughout the entire landscape and streetscape of Port Covington. While the competition is open to designers from anywhere, we hope that the benches will have a positive Baltimore narrative and strong local connection. Ideally the benches would be manufactured in Baltimore, or carry another specific trait that makes the result contemporary, specific to Baltimore and iconic.”

If any of the proposals are selected to be built, the brief stated, “the authors(s) of the selected proposal will be included in all aspects of the design development process, and properly credited.”

The competition drew 18 entries, and the sponsors narrowed the list of candidates to three. They each received $5000 stipends and were asked to create full-scale prototypes of their benches for judging.

Ryan Patterson, public art administrator for BOPA, said the entries touched on a wide range of themes.

“It was very competitive,” he said. “The three finalists were very different from each other… All the designers stepped up and did a great job.”

The value of holding an open design competition, Patterson said, is that it can yield bench designs that are unique to Baltimore.

“There were some really thoughtful entries,” he said. “It’s a guarantee that it will be a bench that you won’t find anywhere else, that it isn’t an off-the-shelf product…It’s not like they came from the International Furniture Fair.”

The sponsors haven’t announced a decision, but the designs have been judged and have been on display at City Garage, the innovation hub that Sagamore built at 101 W. Dickman Street.

The finalists are:

"The Cleat" bench, by Dean Brown
“The Cleat” bench, by Dean Brown
  • Dean Brown, a landscape architect with Design Collective. He was working with O.E Custom and Ludwig Design. His entry was “The Cleat Bench,” a bench made of wood and metal. It’s shaped like a cleat on a sailboat, blown up to a larger scale. The design plays off Baltimore’s heritage as a port city and love of all things nautical.
"The Riga" bench, by Samantha Polinak
“The Riga” bench, by Samantha Polinak
  • Samantha Polinak of Polinak Designs. She was working with Cherry Hill Fabrications and Bay Town Painting. Polinak’s design was “The Riga,” a bench made of rolled steel with perforations in the seat and back that can tell a story or provide information. In the prototype, the perforations form a map of Port Covington, in reverse.
"The Stoop" bench, by Gutierrez Studios
“The Stoop” bench, by Gutierrez Studios
  • Gutierrez Studios, for design and fabrication. Its design was “The Stoop Bench,” a bench made with painted steel. In profile, this bench evokes the white marble steps seen on Baltimore rowhouses, a reference to city history and the fact that Baltimoreans sit on their front steps. The length of the “steps” varies so certain steps are longer than the average row house stoop, and the bench can be configured to meet different site conditions. The metal material and colored ends update this version from the traditional marble steps, and the metal tubing is a product that is already available.

The jury included: Baltimore Public Art Commission members Elford Jackson and Kua Pao Lian; landscape architect Betsy Boykin; architect Patrick Sutton; Westport community representative Diana Velasquez-Kolnik; and Marcus Stevens, the senior creative director for Sagamore Creative. Sagamore was represented by Caroline Paff and Michael Pokorny. Patterson represented BOPA.

The judging took place in October. Patterson said he expects an announcement about the decisions soon.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Sagamore Development CEO Tom Geddes was not officially on the jury, and to show Marcus Stevens works for Sagamore Creative, not Under Armour.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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