ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s Pier District, its 26-acres parceled into walkable segments, with features such as a solar-shaded marketplace and an occulus with water views through a man-made sloping lawn, owes its design to the collaborative efforts of architects from St. Petersburg, Tampa and New York.
The main team’s original concepts survived an opinionated public concerned about what would replace the iconic inverted pyramid Pier of 1973. Four massive caissons from the pyramid survived to form the base of the new Pier’s fishing deck. Historic Pier pilings also were incorporated into the architects’ design, leaving them exposed in front of Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center’s “wet classroom,” an amphitheater-style seating area leading down to the bay.
It was five years ago that a committee selected the team of Rogers Partners Architects and Urban Designers and lead landscape designer Ken Smith Workshop from New York, along with Tampa’s ASD/SKY Architects, to design the main section of the project. They produced the five-level Pier head building that includes a fourth-floor restaurant, roof-top bar and a bay-level fishing deck.
The team also created such elements as the coastal thicket, an over-the-water deck through a landscape of native trees, shrubs and grasses.
Rob Rogers, founding partner of Rogers Partners, is pleased with the options the new $92 million Pier offers.
“I think our goal would be that there is such a diversity of experiences and opportunity that you are going to want to go back over and over. And if you’re a resident, you are going to go to the beach, the environmental center. You might fish out at the end,” he said.
Vince Lee, an associate partner at Rogers Partners, and project director, said there are a number of ways to experience the Pier head building. “It is kind of a microcosm of the whole Pier, in that there are multiple ways to use it and move through it, providing different experiences and views along the way.”
Rogers Partners teamed up with ASD/SKY, which was responsible for renovations at Al Lang Stadium and is working at Sparkman’s Wharf in Tampa.
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“As a team here locally, we were able to patiently manage all the public input and address many of the voices we heard,” said ASD/SKY’s John Curran, principal in charge and project director.
“Our role as design partner was not only as a partner from a design standpoint, but taking our Florida experience in Florida construction and putting this into planning a building over water. We were there every day. ... I am pleased that my hand prints are all over it. And my kids are terribly excited.”
Wannemacher Jensen Architects in St. Petersburg was the other local firm that had a part in creating the new district. The firm collaborated with W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of Brooklyn to design the area that links the Pier to downtown.
“We complement each other,” said Jason Jensen, Wannemacher Jensen’s president, noting that W Architecture’s focus is on parks and the environment.
Barbara Wilks, founder of the New York firm, said she was “honored to work with the dedicated and passionate community of St Pete to re-imagine” the new district. “I am proud that we made a place that everyone can enjoy, while surrounded by native plants and animals of the Tampa Bay.”
Jensen said his firm assisted with the master planning of the Pier approach, specifically the marketplace and Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille. A goal was to create a space to appeal to “a cross-section of the community, with a variety of experiences throughout the park,” he said.
He said his firm believed that the marketplace should be a shaded structure and close to downtown and that “it would be a fantastic way to initially present our city to visitors.”
That the playground and family park did not exist in the original downtown master plan, he said, but he believed they were important elements to include “to be a truly inclusive, family friendly district.” The $1 million playground is shaded. “We integrated it into the trees,” Jensen said.
The installation of artist Nathan Mabry’s 10-foot, origami-style metal pelican at the Pier’s entrance was purposeful. “We worked with the artist and W (Architecture) to focus on that location as an entry plaza and to basically welcome visitors to the Pier with the market directly behind that feature,” Jensen said. He predicts that it will become “a premiere meeting point.”
Their design also evolved to incorporate the Pier’s signature public art, Janet Echelman’s aerial net sculpture that floats above the family park.
“The placement of everything is unfolding a Pier experience for the community,” Jensen said. “You’re not revealing it all at one time. Sprinkle in the shade of the market, the trees of the playground, the plaza and you are coming across activities at walking-friendly intervals.”
Public projects can be the hardest ones, but also the most satisfying, Rogers said.
“I am proud of the fact that we maintained the design concept from the beginning,” Curran said. “The concept has always been strong enough to stay true, the idea of shade, cover and comfort, making sure we had a number of activities throughout the entire Pier, so that it was many experiences and not just a road to the end.”