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    Letters to the Editors

    Library's look brings debate

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 3, 2001


    Re: Shhh! Take the time to let library's look speak for itself, column by Diane Steinle, May 27.

    I am pleased to finally read something positive about Robert A.M. Stern's design proposal for the new Clearwater main library, planned for the downtown bluff.

    I attended a presentation of the design drawings and model and heard Stern explain his design. He is a famous New York architect, and he has distinguished himself in his profession with many design awards for his work and by appointment to be the department head of the venerable Yale School of Architecture. Mr. Stern is also a gentleman and a man of considerable talent and good humor.

    As a fellow member of the profession, I have been disappointed and disturbed by the unprofessional bashing his preliminary design for the library has taken in the press. His critics in this case lack fundamental professional standing equal to his and should not be respected at a professional level just because they have an opinion.

    Typically, drawings are not enough to convey accurately the finished appearance, materials and spatial concepts of such design to those not trained in building and design. The public needs to see the finished product and kick the tires for approval. Some architects would not embrace this design, since they would have a different vision for such a wonderful site. But I believe Stern's building design is derived from the site, the budget and the client's input, with many practical working considerations that must be addressed along with the aesthetic presentation.

    I think this design can be developed and tweaked from this conceptual level to be a wonderful new attraction to anchor the downtown and its renewal. I would expect some revisions based on thoughtful critique.

    I believe the worst we could do would be to replicate some other city's library here. This project needs its own unique, site-specific design. If it is Stern's design, it will receive publication and recognition in the major architectural periodicals, and will have a good chance of winning national and international awards.
    -- James Boyd Johnson, AIA, Clearwater

    Re: Shhh! Take the time to let library's look speak for itself, column by Diane Steinle, May 27.

    Now that I have taken the time to let the library's look speak for itself, I am so happy to let my voice count.

    First, let me say that I am the daughter of R. E. MacDonald, the man who built the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and, as measured by the engineering awards and construction awards he won at the time, one of the world's foremost contractors. This is the background from which I come.

    Building the library as it is currently designed would be a mistake for several reasons. First, it seems to me that the amount of glass would be dangerous in the event of a tropical storm or hurricane unless massive hurricane shutters were built to cover the windows.

    Second, the awning that reminds Editor of Editorials Diane Steinle of a "sail" reminds me of those horrid awnings that were used in the 1950s as a cover for patios. You know the ones -- they had a rippled effect that would allow for the runoff of the rain.

    One way in which I am "my father's daughter" is that I value simplicity of design and classic lines. Okay, so that makes me a traditionalist. However, timeless structures do not have to be dull. Look at the Eiffel Tower, the gorgeous Sydney Opera House, Washington Monument, and, of course, the Arch itself. These are exciting structures, although simple in their design. (I did not say they were exactly simple to build, however.)

    In keeping with the other buildings in the city of Clearwater, I would suggest something along the lines of the downtown post office, the Fort Harrison Hotel, or the new plan for the Marriott on Clearwater Beach. These are elegant, timeless, classic designs that are also Florida designs. They would be beautiful perched on the bluff on Osceola Avenue and are built with the capriciousness of Florida weather in mind.
    -- Cindy MacDonald Gamblin, Dunedin

    If you viewed the line drawings in the newspaper of the new downtown Clearwater library with something less than enthusiasm, you weren't alone. I had the same impression until I saw the architectural model. To put it mildly, it's beautiful! The difference between the stark, flat drawings and the model is quite amazing.

    This signature building by world-renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern will finally give downtown Clearwater something to show off. The library has always been one of my favorite places, but I've never understood why it had to occupy such a fabulous piece of land. At one time, I had advocated moving it to Cleveland Street. Now I'm glad it will remain on the bluff.

    One of the best features of the new library is a coffee shop that will feature a wide-open view of Coachman Park and the Intracoastal Waterway. I envision this to be a favorite gathering place for locals, and for that reason, the size might need to be increased. Finally, we'll be able to sit and enjoy the beauty of Clearwater.

    My second favorite reason for having the library on the bluff is the new rooftop gathering area. Imagine the weddings and other social events that will take place outside and four stories up. Clearwater has never had anything like this.

    As you may know, the Clearwater City Commission committed $15-million to build the new library, but charged the community with raising the final $5-million. Thanks to the generosity of the Eckerd family, that figure was reduced to $3-million.

    Remember when Ruth Eckerd Hall was being built? There was a campaign for the whole community to become involved. I remember donating my $25 and feeling that I had a little bit of ownership. I hope the community will respond the same way for our new library.

    The Library Foundation also will hold a giant garage sale to coincide with the demolition of the current building. Items are being collected now, but due to limited storage, furniture and other large items will be collected closer to the sale, which we anticipate will be in January.

    The new downtown library is something wonderful that everyone can support. Call the foundation at (727) 462-6800, ext. 244 to find out how you can get involved, or send your checks to the Greater Clearwater Public Library Foundation, Osceola Avenue, Clearwater, FL 33755.
    -- Brenda Harris Nixon, Clearwater

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