The average tourist will find architectural masterworks in all the major cities of the world but more adventurous travelers will find big rewards in the great buildings located far off the beaten path. Works like the Frank Gehry Guggenheim in the dirty port city of Bilbao, Spain, and the breathtaking Eero Saarinen North Christian Church in the farm country of Columbus, Indiana, are two examples of truly inspiring architecture living in locations otherwise left off the map of the Great Cities of the World. The newest entry in this category is the Tampa Museum of Art, designed by the brilliant San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz, and completed just a couple months ago.
On a recent trip to the outlying areas of Tampa I made it a point to travel to the heart of the city to see the new museum. Until the recently completed museum, the only standout architectural achievement in Tampa was the University of Tampa, situated just across a small river from the new museum. The university buildings are a collection of Moorish minarets, domes and cupolas that are actually quite unique in America and serve as a striking contrast to the perforated steel plates and sharp 90-degree angles of the museum. During the day, the giant cantilevered building hangs over like a steel umbrella sheltering museum-goers from the fierce Florida sun. At night, while the moon is shining through the crescent moons atop the university buildings, the museum is providing its own light show when the entire south-facing exterior wall glows with an ever-changing spectrum of color.
The interior seems to be designed as a theme-and-variations play on the exterior perforating holes that make up the “skin” of the building. Holes become larger in the skylights over the main lobby area – where a large Alexander Calder mobile hangs, inappropriately, in my opinion as it does not serve the architecture or the sculpture very well – and holes become smaller in the visually prominent hardware fastening the stairs to the glass walls of the stairway. The bluish glass and straight white lines of the interior walls leading to the educational and curatorial areas are classic modernism: clean and simple, minimalism at its most beautiful.
Though the galleries for the art are shockingly small for a museum of this overall size (I would guess they take up less than half the amount of space the building occupies) I did see a very nice Helen Frankenthaler painting that my mom claimed my five-year-old nephew could make in his sleep. Though a trip to downtown Tampa will be definitely be worth one sunny afternoon of your life, the thought of my nephew hanging his artwork in this beautiful new museum will keep me coming back time and again.
Posted by Eric Hildebrandt, Studio Proprietor | DWR Potrero Studio