Tampa unveils new art museum

Rafael Viñoly knows how to stir up a city. The world-renowned architect swept into Tampa Friday to unveil his design for a new Tampa Museum of Art. Approximately 500 people showed up at the convention center just to see what he had in store.

Going into the event, not too many people knew what to expect.

Mark Klutho, who identified himself as a member of The American Institute of Architecture, stood outside the convention center greeting onlookers with a sign that read, “Viñoly’s glass architecture is wasteful and unsustainable.” Klutho said he was protesting the choice of Viñoly because the architect’s previous designs, such as the glass-roofed Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, were inappropriate to Tampa’s subtropical climate.

Inside, city councilman Charlie Miranda was more upbeat. Though he didn’t reveal anything about the design itself, Miranda talked about the relatively low cost of the project and its value for the community.

“I think it’s a design that’s going to meet the expectations of the public,” he said.

Then, Viñoly’s vision was unveiled. Whether it meets the expectations of the public, however, is still up for debate. Though city leaders and local media have trumped the new design, some critics say they’re not quite ready to join the party.

The Design

Contrary to what Klutho originally feared, Viñoly did take into account Florida’s warm climate for the new TMoA. And the way he addressed the issue has already become a trademark of the design.

In Viñoly’s model, a six-story high urban canopy stretches from The Cube at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Ashley Drive down to the current Curtis Hixon Park. The canopy not only covers the museum and the sidewalk, but a portion of Ashley Drive, as well.

The canopy will be constructed out of steel and features a trellis-like covering that, according to Viñoly, will allow hurricane-force winds to pass through without lifting the structure off its foundation.

The most important function of the canopy, as Viñoly described it, though, is its ability to shade the area, making the area up to 15 degrees cooler than it would normally be.

As for the museum itself, Viñoly has tripled the size of the current building, offering 124,000 square feet of floor space for administrative offices and gallery space on six interlocking levels. Glass walls dominate the perimeter of the structure, providing a view of the city to the east, and the Hillsborough River and University of Tampa to the west.

The Reaction

While Friday’s event featured an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone involved in the project, there were a few in attendance who weren’t quite sold on the design.

Ed Crawford, who is currently running for a seat in the County Commission, said Viñoly’s plan has several key flaws.

“His presentation doesn’t address (traffic concerns) at all,” Crawford said. “I think what they’re going for with the number of posts there are is kind of this idea of providing enclosure for the lanes (on Ashley Drive) that are under the roof. So, my first question is, why not the whole street, instead of just one side?”

Another issue Crawford raised, and one that will almost surely be raised again in the future, is that the Viñoly design blocks the view of the University of Tampa’s minarets.

Stephen Schreiber, dean of the USF School of Architecture, said that blocking the minarets would be a difficult decision for the city.

“I think that the minarets are very special,” he said. “But it’s something that Tampa is going to have to confront if they’re going to develop downtown.”

Schreiber added that the renderings included in Friday’s unveiling showed a slightly misleading view of what the museum will look like from the street level.

“The drawings they had showed the museum from the level of the roof,” he said. “The reality is that if you’re walking down the (Ashley) street, you will lose that view completely.”

Regardless of the problems with the design, however, even the critics say that at least it’s a step in the right direction.

“I came prepared to hate it,” said Crawford. “But I certainly don’t hate it.”

Emily Kass, director of TMoA, said during her speech Friday that a new building is long overdue.

“We really ran out of space a long time ago,” she said. “(This design) will demonstrate all of the things that will create the infrastructure that will make us a world class museum.”

Brandon Beachler, who works with Alonso Architects, a local firm that helped to develop the plan, said that Tampa is ripe for a boldly designed building.

“I think Tampa is ready,” he said. “I don’t know if the people are ready, but the city is.”

Jason Welty, who also works with Alonso Architects, agreed. “This will be a nice injection of modernism,” he said. “It’s not about blocking views.”

Beachler chimed in, “It’s about creating new perspectives.”

Jeff Tucker, chairman of TMoA’s board of trustees, said that the design represents a permanent change in Tampa’s image.

“This is the most important civic building we will build downtown in our lifetime,” he said during a speech.

During an interview, Tucker added that Viñoly has integrated his design into the fabric of the city.

“He’s given us a sense of changing the city and making a very great urban design that really incorporates what we already have and the museum into a whole new look for downtown,” he said. “And it’s going to change downtown forever.”

But before construction begins on the project, some say changes in the design are needed.

“There’s a lot of potential for this to put Tampa on the architectural map,” said Schreiber. “But it’s going to take some detailing to make this idea happen,”

Too Important

Regardless of what his critics may say, however, Viñoly maintains his cool.

“I think we have good answers for whatever problems could arise,” he said.

Viñoly added he realizes that not everyone is going to love his design, especially in the beginning.

“It has a lot to do with who gets it,” he said. “In architecture, something happens over time, and you’re never going to have everybody getting it right off the bat. And that’s what makes it interesting and complicated.”

And with a project as big as this one, Viñoly said public debate plays a key role in the process.

“It’s too important of a project for not having a level of some controversy,” he said.