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‘Iconic,' ‘uniquely St. Pete:' What five local architects think of the new Pier

The architects lauded the new landmark for what they said was a timeless yet functional design.

Years in the making, the new St. Pete Pier opened with fanfare and excitement on July 6. Local leaders declared it a victory for the city and curious Tampa Bay residents have ventured to the glistening new attraction despite the pandemic-induced crowd control measures.

But what do architects have to say about the new design that replaced the inverted pyramid? The Tampa Bay Times requested critiques from five local architects and experts.

Related: St. Petersburg’s Pier District offers breezy, beautiful new place to play

The following architects were not involved in the construction of the pier, nor did their firms bid on the project, except in the instance noted. Their reviews are in their own words, with minor edits for length or clarity:

Robert MacLeod, professor and director of the University of South Florida’s School of Architecture & Community Design:

“I think it’s a very ambitious scheme. It’s an urban experience even though it’s a pier it accommodates a large number of people doing a diverse range of activities so the programming is very ambitious.

“A common first impression is that it’s an object building that sits in the water but it’s much more than that. It’s obviously a significant building for St. Pete but also it’s a significant building in terms of that kind of public infrastructure, so I think it’s an important building for the state of Florida and even for the Southeast.

“We don’t build projects like this every day but it also allows us to rethink how we make cities and public space on the water. The fact you have the ability to look at both cities and to look at water it’s kind of an unusual experience for people.

“The great thing about St. Pete are all the parks along the water. This kind of contributes to that public realm in very straightforward way. I like that it enlivens it.

“Even though it was born out of a certain controversy with the first one and then competition for this one the city is going to look back at this in short order and realize it was worth it. It’s a generational building. You don’t build buildings like this often, it’s maybe a 75- to 100-year building I hope, and that’s what makes it special.

Visitors walk through and shop at the new Marketplace area of the St. Petersburg Pier District, Friday, July 10, 2020. The market opened Friday. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

“Sometimes cities build things like this and they’re not world class and I think this is striving to be a world caliber building. The building feels like it emerges out of the intersection of the place and the environment and to me it speaks to where we are today and how we build today.

“I’m not big fan of buildings that are overly nostalgic. It’s not nostalgic. It’s really forward-looking. I have a feeling it will wear well over time because it’s iconic but its not ... fashionable in a bad way that’s going to date it.

“The building has to grow into the city and city has to grow into the building. My sense is that a lot of the things they did, they got right.”

Dawn Gunter, principal and co-managing director of the Tampa office for Gensler:

“Picnic blankets, dogs resting, families with strollers, skateboarders, rollerbladers, wheelchairs, fishing and squeals of joy at the splash pad create an inspiring sense of possibility for the art and architecture at the St. Pete Pier. Great urban design is also on display. The St. Pete Pier has been re-imagined to be multiple ‘spaces in between’ where everyone can find their favorite destination. The Bending Arc, for example, is a tensile structure that creates a stunning destination, with it’s suspended net-inspired sculpture floating over a grassy lawn by day and exploding with shifting color at night. In place of the historic pier, The Point pays homage to the familiar inverted-triangle form of the previous structure while embracing the larger purpose of the new pier.

“The Pier provides spaces and moments that are both universal and personal. The old live oaks were carefully preserved and now provide beautiful shade, paying respect to the longstanding history of the Pier as a community boardwalk. The art and architecture will be both loved and critiqued, and will be successful in sparking conversations around form, function and timelessness.

“The City of St Petersburg leaders and teams that have championed, designed and constructed the Pier can take much pride in this project and the opportunities it promises for St. Petersburg residence and visitors alike.

The signature sculpture of the new $92 million dollar St. Petersburg Pier, "Bending Arc" by renown artist, Janet Echelman is seen lit up on Tuesday June 30, 2020 in the Pier District. (Boyzell Hosey/Tampa Bay Times via AP) [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]

Kim Headland, principal and vice president of Wilder Architecture in Tampa and past president of the American Institute of Architects’ Florida chapter:

“As a Tampa resident, I am a regular visitor to St. Petersburg. Each trip brings an increased appreciation for the ongoing development of the City’s waterfront — the new pier is no exception. As a local architect, I am more impressed by the magnitude of the fresh, new vision that has been realized with the design of this new, instant icon. It is an expertly planned addition to the city that creates a wide range of well-choreographed experiences for everyone to enjoy… again and again.

“Upon arrival, the ‘Marketplace’ creates an eye-catching entry point. Photovoltaic panels hover above the generous sidewalk, becoming a shade structure, providing a delightful respite from the Florida sun. Moving towards the “point” and the eastern-most end of the pier, opportunities abound — from the family park and playground to Pier Plaza and a “tilted” lawn. An adjacent pavilion, with clean and modern rooflines, provides the perfect, understated backdrop for these open and varied public spaces. A diverse collection of public art is sprinkled throughout. Notable works by Nathan Mabry, Xenobia Bailey, and Janet Echelman are sure to become instant meeting places and the background for many selfies to come.

Related: I ate at all 5 restaurants at the new St. Pete Pier. Here’s what to expect.

“The redefined Spa Beach generously adjoins the public plaza, while the meandering paths through the coastal thicket create smaller scaled moments of tranquility. Located at the intersection of two distinct pathways, the Discovery Center subtly compliments the Pier Head Building, engaging the water with tiered seating and producing a wealth of hands-on learning opportunities.

“Finally, the eastern-most “point” is composed of well-designed dining and retail spaces. Perhaps the most impactful and significant component of this four-story structure is the multi-level vistas that are skillfully framed and crafted — ranging from the fishing pier at the water’s edge to the shaded rooftop bar.

“The new St. Pete Pier is a carefully designed series of spaces and opportunities to enjoy the waterfront, providing an experience that is much more than the sum of its parts.”

People stroll at the tip of the pier head during the grand opening of the Pier District on Monday, July 6, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ JONAH HINEBAUGH | Times ]

Istvan Peteranecz, principal at Behar + Peteranecz Architecture in St. Petersburg:

"As a destination, the St. Pete Pier offers locals and visitors a uniquely St. Pete experience beyond downtown and the beaches. I like that the new plan gives visitors a variety of choices of how to spend their time. One can have a quiet walk, browse or shop in the market stall structures, have a snack or an elegant meal, or a drink with friends. The pier provides visitors a one-of-a-kind view back to the St Pete waterfront parks, Al Lang Stadium and downtown skyline. It's also a great spot to watch sailing and boating, as well as planes take off and land at the airport.

“The St. Pete Pier offers us an iconic new symbol for our city, while maintaining the heritage of the historic pier design. I like how the form of the new design still refers to the inverted pyramid of the previous pier and is complementary to the design of the nearby Dali Museum, rather than competing with it.

Related: As the new St. Pete Pier opens, a look back at piers of the past

“The Pier also gives St. Pete a readily identifiable landmark when viewed from the water and from the many planes landing in Tampa. I appreciate how the design is somewhat understated, yet memorable. Classy without being gaudy or in-your-face. The design is overall comprehensible and approachable, and breathes new life into the pier district. It gives visitors to Downtown St. Pete another level of experience.”

Brian Hammond, Director of Architecture in the Design Studio of BDG Architects in Tampa (which contributed to elements of the Pier):

"BDG Architects was fortunate to work with Chuck Prather on his latest restaurant concepts at the new St. Pete Pier. We partnered with Birchwood Development on another downtown St. Pete destination, The Birchwood Inn, visible from the new St. Pete Pier. BDG Architects used ASD/SKY’s unique design of the pier which takes advantage of the waterfront and views of downtown as the canvas with which we brought Chuck’s vision to life into the new restaurant concepts that are housed in the pierhead. Each of the three concepts, the more upscale restaurant, Teak, the rooftop Pier Teaki and Driftwood Cafe located on the ground floor provide something for everyone with bay and city views to connect the interior with the exterior.

“The new pier also does the same for its visitors. The approach to their new pierhead provides visitors a choice of pedestrian experiences from the open-air market to the great sloped lawn and the splashpad. The path invites visitors to explore this urban park with surprises along the way taking you to the coastal thicket of natural vegetation or by Janet Echelman’s sculpture, Bending Arc, to visit the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, throw a line out in hopes of hooking a fish or just find a place to rest and take in the 360 degree view all that St. Petersburg has to offer. A long time in the making, St. Petersburg has a new icon and BDG Architects is proud to be a part of this project, which a nice addition to the already beautiful waterfront.”

The open kitchen area can be seen at Teak at the St. Petersburg Pier District. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]