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Design may lose poles

A design for the Tampa Museum of Art that included 100-foot poles is losing favor.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 21, 2002

TAMPA -- Before architect Rafael Vinoly unveiled his design for the new Tampa Museum of Art, he had another idea.

His original concept included the building's signature roof, called an "urban canopy," with a 100-foot high metal grid.

But it had no poles.

Now, as Vinoly and a team of architects continue to refine their design, the poles may be gone again.

"We are going back to the first concept," said Mateo Paiva, an architect with Vinoly's firm who was in town Friday to work on the museum plans.

Vinoly has not settled on anything final. The architect has been known to change direction in the middle of construction.

But as he rethinks the design, the poles that stood so prominently when he unveiled his vision in June are losing favor.

To some, the 100-foot high poles made the $52-million museum look like a cage. To others, they looked like enormous spider legs that draped down to the street from the museum's six levels.

The poles supported a trellis that spanned the museum and Ashley Drive. Some of the poles landed in the median of Ashley, the main boulevard that brings cars into downtown from Interstate 275.

It wasn't just that the poles looked odd.

A group of about 35 art and business leaders following the project said the poles would make the area around the museum unfriendly to pedestrians.

Museum director Emily Kass said Friday that there were practical problems, too.

The poles could create a potential hazard for drivers turning east on Ashley Drive toward downtown office buildings. The poles might block a driver's view, causing a crash, she said.

Even after he unveiled a model in June, Vinoly was still contemplating his creation, taking in reaction and reconsidering his premises, Kass said.

He learned a lot from Tampa residents who e-mailed him their impressions, Kass said. (Vinoly's e-mail is

City officials also sent Vinoly plans for a 25-story condo tower being proposed in the cultural arts district by Byrd Corp. of Clearwater. He must consider how the condos will affect the museum's design.

Vinoly also must study how the art museum's design affects plans for a new history center, which is planned for the district as well.

Vinoly has not said when his latest design for the museum will be ready.

But his work should be done soon, perhaps within weeks, officials said. The city, which is spending $27-million in taxpayer funds on the building, wants construction to begin early next year.

-- Staff writer David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or

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