Walkabouts: downtown Tampa


When one thinks of Florida architecture, if one thinks of Florida architecture, Disney World might come to mind. Or the ubiquitous Mediterranean McMansion in a gated golf-course community. Or the art deco hotels of Miami Beach.

Tampa architecture? Not so much. But there is more to the Cigar City than the iconic University of Tampa, the Museum of Science and Industry and some glass bank towers.

Tampa architecture, says John Howey, FAIA, himself one of the city’s architectural grand guard, is like Cuban bread, the kind served at the city’s landmark Columbia restaurant.




architmain“It is tasteless and white,” said Howey, “until you heat it up and put butter on it. Then it gets a quality.” (And you get a lot of crumbs on your lap.)

Heat is easy to come by in Tampa. Butter is another matter, but as it turns out, there is enough good architecture to enhance Tampa’s reputation for design.

“ ‘Up and down’ would be the way I describe it,” said Howey of his city’s built environment.

Tampa’s most acclaimed buildings include the new Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the H.B. Plant Museum, the “Beer Can” building and adjoining Cube, The Florida Aquarium, the Morsani medical building at USF, the Southwest and International terminals at Tampa International Airport, Tampa Bay History Center in Channelside, the Tampa Theater, Kiley Garden and Howey’s own Franklin Street Mall.

Rivergate Tower, also known as the “Beer Can Building,” designed by Harry Wolf, FAIA, in 1986, gives the city’s skyline a landmark that makes it recognizable when The Weather Channel previews weekend weather in selected cities. The 2010 Tampa Museum of Art, by Stanley Saitowitz, is as cutting-edge modern as it gets, clad in a double layer of perforated aluminum panels.

architmain2The 2009 Tampa History Museum, by Verner Johnson, is a new landmark in the Channelside district. And the Florida Aquarium, by HOK Architects, has drawn accolades ever since it opened in 1995.

Each of these buildings joins the 1917 Cuban Club in Ybor City, the 1891 Henry B. Plant Museum at the University of Tampa (built as the Flagler Hotel), the 1978 Museum of Science and Industry on Fowler Avenue, the 1926 Tampa Theatre on Franklin Street and the 1965 Tampa International Airport as Tampa’s representatives on the American Institute of Architects’ “100 Years: 100 Places” compilation of Florida’s best architecture.

Then you have the classic Spanish architecture of Ybor City and the bungalows and grand Georgian homes of Hyde Park (my favorite neighborhood outside of the Herald-Tribune’s circulation area).

Several buildings on the list of Tampa icons can be viewed at the new Hixon Waterfront Park, which is where Curtis Hixon Hall once stood, between Ashley Street and the Hillsborough River. The Plant Museum/University of Tampa building with the famous minarets is just across the river. The art museum is on the north side of the park, and the Beer Can Building on the south side. The Tampa Theater is a couple of blocks away.

Standing next to the Beer Can Building is an interesting structure called The Cube. It also was designed by Wolf, a native North Carolinian who went to Georgia Tech and is based in Los Angeles. The Cube contains a club/restaurant and a museum of photography, among other things.

The main space is decorated with red modernist furnishings. It has a large window with some interesting post-and-beam framework that surrounds the six-story height of the main atrium.


Wolf’s 31-story, limestone-clad Beer Can building — also known as the Rivergate Tower — received the prestigious AIA National Honors Award in 1993. It is an award voted upon by AIA member architects, many of whom probably wished they had thought of a tower like the Rivergate.

Howey said Tampa went through a modernist period and now traditional architecture is battling with the contemporary modernist influence.

“Contemporary was quite popular for a 15-year period,” he said. “Because there were several influential architects at the time that did traditional mostly, they started to take over, like the University of Tampa — that area pretty much stayed traditional.

“In fact, the work that (modernist) Mark Hampton did there was torn down recently and replaced with pseudo-Collegiate Gothic architecture, brick with cast-stone trim, that sort of thing. That is what Tampa has gone back to.”

“Using the University of Tampa as a focal point, the McDonald’s franchise is building traditional restaurants” near Ybor City.

To summarize his city’s architecture, Howey returned to the Spanish/Cuban food analogy.

“It is so like paella,” said Howey. “When you put it all together, it is very tasty. Taken separately, you would think they would clash.”

Photos of some of Harold’s favorite Tampa buildings are fat heraldtribune.com/galleries.

Last modified: November 16, 2013
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