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New art museum a tough task

The architect agrees it's a difficult site, but thinks a striking structure can rise.

Published February 1, 2007


TAMPA - The challenge is considerable. Stanley Saitowitz, the man - okay, the latest man - charged with designing the 21st century version of the Tampa Museum of Art, acknowledged as much.

"It's actually a really difficult site in many ways," Saitowitz said Wednesday in a question-and-answer session at the current museum.

He was responding to a question about the "rather miserable challenge" of building the museum on a Curtis Hixon Park site that borders the William F. Poe Garage and a stretch of railroad tracks.

Saitowitz, the San Francisco-area architect selected about two months ago to design the approximately $41-million project, provided a slide show of structures he's crafted throughout the years.

From the slides, attendees could garner the South African-born Saitowitz hews to a modernist viewpoint. His creations showed off an icy, clean, Spartan feel, full of right angles and crisp, mechanical shapes.

Near the end of the Q-and-A, Jason Ball of the Web site SkyscaperCity.Com queried Saitowitz about how well that approach would go down in Tampa. He wondered whether a citizenry that has bemoaned previous attempts at modern art is ready for this approach.

"What kind of visual cues will you use to be not so stark and geometric with all these lines?" Ball asked.

"Hopefully it will be intelligent and it will be graspable - it will be clear what it is," said Saitowitz, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

Saitowitz said when he first built his office building in San Francisco, "people hated it. Now it's been absorbed into the culture on that street."

Museum officials said they hope to have schematics for the new museum in about two months, start construction by fall, and open sometime from late 2008 to early 2009.

That's an ambitious but makeable game plan, Saitowitz said: "Every time I hear the schedule, I think I need to be at my board, drawing."

[Last modified February 1, 2007, 06:16:09]

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