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    Art museum plans unveiled

    The giant metalic grid roof is the eye-catching feature of the new Tampa Museum of Art, scheduled for a 2004 completion.

    [Handout Illustration]
    The planned design for the new Tampa Museum of Art, with a metallic grid stretching beyond the building, is shown in this artist's rendering unveiled Friday.

    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 15, 2002

    TAMPA -- What you notice first is the roof.

    It is flat, metal, like a gigantic grid. Architect Rafael Vinoly calls it "an urban canopy."

    It will rise 100 feet, straddling the new Tampa Museum of Art and extending north and south of it -- north to the William F. Poe parking garage, south to the circular skyscraper at 400 N Ashley.

    It even extends into the middle of Ashley Drive, over four lanes of southbound traffic.

    Vinoly unveiled his design for the $52-million Tampa Museum of Art to an audience of 600 at the Tampa Convention Center on Friday.

    And the design required explaining by the internationally renowned architect.

    "Digest the initial ideas," Vinoly said, adding he wanted input "because you are the client."

    "It's pretty bold, and Tampa needs something bold," said Joe Toph, a local architect, peering into the lighted model.

    "Can you imagine what this place would look like at night with an airplane flying over it?" said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. "I tell you what, you will never see a picture of Tampa without this in it."

    As different as the design looked, there were reasons for it, said Vinoly. When the New York-based architect first visited the current Tampa Museum of Art last year, "the thing that really struck me as being unavoidably clear was that I couldn't open my eyes," he said.

    [Times photo: Krystal Kinnunen]
    Architect Rafael Vinoly says that walking to the front entrance of the current Tampa Museum of Art is like "crossing the Sahara."

    "I just walked out of the car and I was sort of blinded by the light."

    A knowing audience nodded.

    Walking to the museum's front door, across a massive stretch of concrete, was "like crossing the Sahara," he said.

    Other problems he saw:

    Nothing to draw the eye toward the museum as motorists traveled down Ashley.

    The 400 N Ashley skyscraper -- the circular one many local residents call the beer can -- dominated the skyline. That needed to be toned down.

    The park bordering the museum along the Hillsborough River was uninhabited, except by the homeless.

    To solve these problems, Vinoly hit upon his urban canopy -- or "elevated loggia" -- made from light steel or aluminium. It will be a glassless grid that is open to the environment but still provides shade.

    At night, the canopy will reflect light, he said. In the daytime, it will provide protection from the sun, with temperatures a good 10 to 15 degrees cooler underneath.

    Vinoly drew this idea from old photos of Tampa, when awnings were used along city streets in the days before air conditioning. He is also an architect who likes to incorporate dramatic roofs in his designs. His Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia has a 150-foot glass barrel over a red brick foundation a city block wide.

    The canopy is hurricane proof, he said.

    But why extend it to the street and other buildings?

    For visual reasons as well as functional ones, Vinoly said.

    At the back of the museum, the roof will provide cover for a veranda, which could become a setting for exhibits, public functions, or to admire the Hillsborough River and the landmark minarets of the University of Tampa on the west bank.

    Vinoly said extending the canopy also helps unify the cultural arts district that the city envisages stretching along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. The canopy could be stretched further north along Ashley Drive, to the public library, which is next to the Poe garage, and therefore reaching almost to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

    He said putting the canopy over the southbound lanes of Ashley Drive makes a dramatic statement, and draws the eye to the museum. A visitor won't drive past without glancing.

    "As you drive on Ashley, you would see this plain of lights," said Vinoly, narrating the virtual tour on the three screens at the convention center.

    Underneath the canopy will be the museum, which will be positioned closer to Ashley.

    The levels of the museum will be long, rectangular stacks -- like a giant shoe box pile. There will be six levels linked with ramps, stairs and escalators. Some walls will be translucent, for museumgoers to see out into the city and river, and for visitors to see in.

    There will be 31,000 square feet of gallery space, three times more than now, and several classrooms. The present museum has only one.

    Vinoly positioned the 124,000-square-foot museum closer to Ashley Drive, in the spot he called the Sahara, and he made the museum "permeable," he said, "so you could see the park all the way through."

    The new museum cafe and shop will be accessible from the street without visitors having to enter the museum.

    On the lower level will be a 350-seat auditorium for small concerts and lectures.

    The city is contributing $27-million of the museum's projected $52-million price tag; the rest has to be raised privately. Vinoly's firm is being paid $6-million.

    Construction should start within a year, and the anticipated opening date is December 2004.

    Vinoly's hope is for the new museum to be a civic space, a gathering spot to sit and be inspired.

    It "is meant to be much more than a building," he said. "A spiritual place for the community."

    What they thought

    "It's practical, it's dramatic, it's different and I've never seen anything like it in the country or for that matter, the world. It is going to set us apart. Basically, what he's done is given us some drama at a low cost. The man has spent a lot of time and a lot of effort making this the "Wow' I asked for."
    - Mayor Dick Greco

    "It's too harsh. It would look better if the perimeter of the canopy - having all that jutting edges - if that was smoother, more like the curves in a swimming pool."
    - Wayne Robinson, Tampa software engineer

    "Designing for our climate, you should always start with the roof, start with the big Panama hat. You build the building within the shade of the big Panama hat and that is exactly what Vinoly did on a real heroic, grand civic scale."
    - Joe Toph, Tampa architect

    "It kind of reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture because it blends into the environment, into the surroundings and I think that is where (Vinoly) is coming from."
    - Donna Tucker, schoolteacher

    "This museum will be a real gem for our community."
    - Emily Kass, Tampa Museum of Art director

    "It will engage people and bring people to downtown."
    - Annette Gordon, works at a museum in Tarpon Springs

    "I really didn't know what they would come up with. But I really like it."
    -- Katharine Taylor, volunteer at the Tampa Museum of Art

    "It has the potential for being a great addition to Florida, put us on the architectural map."
    -- Stephen Schreiber, director of USF's school of architecture and community design

    What do you think?

    What do you think of the design for the new Tampa Museum of Art? We welcome comments. Call Babita Persaud at 1-813-226-3322 (or toll-free 1-800 333-7505 ext. 3322), or e-mail Please include your name and phone number.

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