USF's University Architect and Director of Facilities Planning and Construction
ARCHITECT IN ACADEMIA: Originally from Philadelphia, Steven Gift, 45, attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to pursue his architectural interests. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1973. After graduation he traveled to Denver, where he practiced his trade for a few years, and then returned to the Roanoke, Va., area. He worked on revitalizing Roanoke's historic district for nearly 12 years. Later, he was awarded projects at Virginia Tech, which opened the door for him to revamp his old campus. "In the process of completing those projects, I got to know people who were involved in the in-house master plan at Virginia Tech and that process ultimately led to me being hired into the university to set up a capital outlay implementation program and to complete the master plan," Gift said. Gift's master plan won the American Planning Association National Planning Award in 1983. He came to the University of South Florida after reading about an opportunity in The Chronicle of Higher Education. After spending a dozen years in Blacksburg, he said he didn't really have a path of growth there and was seeking a greater challenge. "As I investigated it, I became more and more intrigued about the idea of coming here to South Florida," he said. "I have said some things that indicate that I don't think this campus is all it can be, but I think there is tremendous potential here. I think this is one of the universities of the next century. . . . I saw an opportunity to combine my talent and credentials with what University of South Florida really needed _ which was somebody to guide this program and give it vision. I saw a wonderful opportunity and a great challenge."
BUILDING FOR STUDENTS: As a student at Virginia Tech, Gift said he never thought he would return to the small town of Blacksburg to work on the university's architecture. "I was going to go to some urban center like New York or Tampa or Denver," he said. However, as a student, Gift saw things on Virginia Tech's campus that he thought could be improved. He continues to use a student perspective to help him decide what college campuses should look like. "That's always been a kind of a guiding principle for me," he said. "I think a lot of what university campuses do is set up the opportunity for academic interaction, not just in the classroom . . . but they also teach our young people how to live and how to interact and how to socialize. All too often I think people who design campuses think of campuses as an assembly of buildings. . . . And what most of us take away or remember from our college experience is not so much a building, but its people and programs and those kind of places between the buildings where they really have the experiences that really crystallize their collegiate life."
ENHANCING USF'S LANDSCAPE: Since arriving at USF in January, Gift has met with students, faculty, staff and local constituents who surround the university. His master plan (which won the planning Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in May) has two big ideas it embraces to enhance the pedestrian experience and be environmentally sound, a combination of ideas that Gift said he thinks is winning the plan critical praise from the professional community. "The first (idea) is infilled construction, which is to say that rather than going out on sites further and further remote from the center of campus . . . we're going back into the center of campus and building between the current buildings. I think the great legacy that has been left to us by those general service-era buildings is they were not built very closely together." This leaves between buildings great expanses of grass that are exposed to both the sun and torrential rain in the summer because of the lack of trees, he said. "Infill will allow us to come and build buildings strategically between those buildings to create an opportunity to move from building to building," Gift said. "We're also challenging our architects to build the buildings so they create overhangs, arcades and public courtyards so you can not only move by the building, but actually be sheltered by it." The second issue in the master plan is to preserve and enhance open space so that it's not lost and to create a proper stormwater runoff area at the same time. A greenway will run diagonally across the campus and will be a "sacrosanct, non-development area," he said.
CORRECTING USF'S BEGINNINGS: The original development on campus decimated the natural environment on campus, Gift said. He thinks a great deal of that was repaired through the planting of grass and oak trees, but much more can be done. "There's nothing wrong with grass or oak trees, but I think one of the great delights I've found as a recent transplant to Florida is that we have this wonderful horticulture," Gift said. "We have palms, we have oaks, we have just this semi-tropical garden to draw from to create environments. I think as we enhance the pedestrian experience, we should employ native species, indigenous materials and also semi-tropical vocabularies like trellis and canopy and courtyard, all of which in California and Greece and Italy are time-tested ways of controlling environmental impact at the pedestrian level." Gift plans to use native plants as much as possible, except where a "splash of color" is needed by an ornamental species. "If it grows here natively, that means it's low maintenance and it will survive drought times and the other natural aspects of this environment," he said.
GIFT'S STYLE: Gift said he doesn't use a particular style of architecture, he prefers to use a style that is unique to each project. "I don't think that we should constrain ourselves by trying to design according to historic style." he said. "There's a great importance to respond to a client, No. 1; and No. 2, respond to a site or a place, and then ultimately define what is unique about those issues and express that in the architecture or in the design response. . . . My hope would be that we could create a unique USF-style over the years." Gift plans to use elements already in place at USF and incorporate their positive aspects into the new buildings. "The great challenge is to create a family of buildings, but to allow each building to aspire to excellence," he said. "To just copy an architectural style, one that might not be as good as it could be, is not creating a context, it's repeating a mistake."
CAMPUS ENHANCEMENTS: One of the major projects to begin soon are the enhancements Gift wants to put in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in the center of the Tampa campus. He will erect a trellis covered with native, flowering vines, that will run across the plaza from the Administration Building to the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. "The idea here is to create a shaded environment that you can sit and walk through and have a conversation in relative peace and shade in what is a fairly urban context," he said. Also in the plaza will be a wet or dry fountain plaza, which will serve as a gathering place for speeches or small concerts, a bookstore connected to the Marshall Center and a reflecting pool with King's bust at one end under the trellis and his "I Have a Dream" speech carved in stone at the other end of the pool. In the area near the Special Events Center, which is connected to the Marshall Center, will be an 800-car parking garage. The Plaza is scheduled for completion by next summer, the parking garage about six months after and the bookstore about one year after, Gift said. He is also working on an education building and Center for Urban Transportation Research and numerous other projects.
_ KATHLEEN LANG