Sunday, March 20, 2011

Architectural Gems: Tampa

Within walking distance of each other in Tampa are some fabulous architectural gems well worth exploring. As an architect, I often find myself criticizing buildings, and all to often negatively. I do believe, however, that artistic criticism is a core tenet for artistic evaluation and improvement. As a student 30 years ago in architectural school, all of our projects were evaluated by "juries", often times consisting of visiting critics, professors from other departments or other universities. Good buildings have a clarity of concept, an efficient functional layout,  they are comfortable in their context, they are carefully detailed and they evoke emotion in us. The following are some really good buildings.



The University of Tampa's Plant Hall is a local landmark and has been since its construction in 1891. It is in beautiful functional condition and a joy to explore. There is a tremendous amount of history surrounding this Moorish Revival building and it is well worth the effort to seek it out. The building's brickwork, the woodwork of the porches and the metal minarets are elegantly resolved and it is very difficult to find inconsistencies in their detailing. The surrounding grounds consisting of tropical gardens are also gorgeous.


Also on U of T's campus is the newly completed Sykes Chapel, a particularly profound little building designed by TVSDESIGN. As a modern architectural statement, it harmoniously captures the concept of "praying hands" in a red brick and curved metal roofing recalling the materials used in Plant Hall just a few short steps away. Again, I emphasize the clarity of concept, contextualism and exquisite detailing.


Just across the river from the University of Tampa, is the Tampa Museum of Art, a minimalist glass and metal building designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz. This building certainly makes a bold structural statement poised on the edge of Curtis Hixon Park, and creates a very strong "sense of place", another characteristic of good architectural design.

Directly across the park from the new museum is the Sykes Building, another local landmark. It is basically a cylindrical sky scraper with a cube attached at the ground level. It's too easy to dismiss this building as another unfortunate modernist structure foisted on us in the recent past. I have studied this building carefully with a trained critical architectural eye and it is actually quite profound and a tremendous gem. It adheres to all of the criteria for good architecture, and once so recognized, it is an obvious masterpiece. Tampa is lucky to have it in their downtown.




These buildings are all within a short walk of each other, and actually, all but the Sykes Chapel can be appreciated at once from Curtis Hixon Park in a very dramatic manner.



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