Bubil: UTC mall gets high marks for design


Although I often write about architecture, most of it residential, I don’t consider myself an architectural critic.

Today, though, I will try on that hat.

After all the hype about the Mall at University Town Center, I had to see if its design works in live conditions — that is, not during a media preview, but on the first Saturday after its Oct. 16 opening.

It’s unlikely that the mall will ever be more crowded than it was that day.

The weather was sunny, with a high temperature near 90. With that many people inside, and bright sunlight pouring through the mall’s 900-foot-long glass ceiling, the potential was there for uncomfortable warmth inside.

It didn’t happen. The three methods — low-e glass, ceramic glass coating and an array of interior louvers — used to reduce solar heat gain worked exactly as advertised by chief architect Ron Loch of Taubman Centers.

When I wasn’t staring at the ceiling, I noticed that the mall is easy to navigate, and the interior design, with its wood accents softening the modernist flair, is appealing without being distracting, even to an architectural geek like me. The curved stone staircases and transparent elevator tower are state-of-the-art.

My overall impression is that this is a big-city mall in a medium-sized market.

We had lunch at Seasons 52 for just $41, and avoided the 45-minute wait for a table by making a reservation once we got to the mall.

My only complaint was that at times, the talented live musicians were too loud. That made it difficult for me to hear the merchants — at least those in shops near the main atrium — when I asked, “How much is that?” The acoustics in the building are very live, so layering music on top of the normal buzz of several thousand shoppers was a bit too much for my ears.

Perhaps the biggest architectural plus is the mall’s main entrance. It creates what the architect of every great public place strives to achieve — a “sense of arrival.”

At least from a merchandising point of view, the Sarasota region has arrived.

Now if only the mall had a Nordstrom. There’s room for one, but until it is built, the yearly trip to International Plaza in Tampa for the half-off sale must still be made.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to a second visit.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: October 25, 2014
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