Tampa Museum of Art


LOCATION: 120 West Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, FL 33602

CLIENT: City of Tampa

ARCHITECT: Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects, San Francisco

BUILT: 2010

SIZE: 68,000 SF

PHOTO CREDITS: Tampa Museum of Art

WEBSITE: www.tampamuseum.org  


The museum was designed by internationally renowned, California-based architect Stanley Saitowitz of Natoma Architects Inc. It was built by Skanska USA. Completed in 2010, it is 68,000 sq ft and cost $26,000,000 to design and construct.


The Architect Describes The Design Rationale

The design of contemporary museums can be characterized by two polar approaches: on the one hand, building which aim to be works of art in themselves, independent sculptural objects as signatures of their architects. On the opposite end of the spectrum are museums as containers, as beautiful jewel boxes, treasure chests whose sole purpose is to be filled with art, like the Tampa Museum.

This museum is a neutral frame for the display of art, an empty canvas to be filled with paintings. It is a beautiful but blank container, a scaffold, to be completed by its contents. A glass pedestal supports the the receptacle for art above. The building floats in the park, embracing it with its overhanging shelter and reflective walls. It is a hovering abstraction, gliding above the ground. The building is not only in the landscape, but is the landscape, reflecting the greenery, shimmering like the water, flickering like clouds. It blurs and unifies, making the museum a park, the park a museum.

The long building is sliced in the center. This cut divides the programs in two, the one public and open, the other reserved for museum staff and closed.  Each of the two sections is organized around a court: one the lobby, the other a courtyard surrounded by the offices and curatorial areas

The 40’ cantilever provides a huge public porch for the city, raising all the art programs above the flood plane. The walk along this porch, flanked by the park, focused on the river, leads to the lobby. The procession through this quiet and levitating space is the preparation for viewing art.

The lobby is at first horizontal, with entirely glass walls, two clear, two etched. The clear walls allow the site to run through the space linking the Performing Art Building on the north with the turrets and domes of the University of Tampa on the south. Above the glass, the perforated ceiling wraps from the exterior into vertical perforated walls that turn into an upper ceiling, perforated again by a series of skylights. The galleries are reached from the lobby below via a dramatic cinematic stair reaching up. Below the stair is a bed of river rock. Off the lobby is a long glass room that houses the café and bookstore in a storefront along the river walk.

The museum contains an expansive and generous field of galleries as instruments to enable, through curation, a world to expose art. They are arranged in a circuit, surrounding the vertical courtyard void. The galleries are blank: walls, floor, and ceiling all shades of white, silent like the unifying presence of snow. The floors are ground white concrete with a saw cut grid to echo the illuminated white fabric ceiling above. Linear gaps in the ceiling conceal sprinklers, air distribution and lighting.

The second segment, around the open court, contains all the support for the museum. Offices surround the court on three sides. A bridge on the lower level is a secondary crossing from preparation to storage, a place for museum staff to be outside. The image of the museum results from the nature of its surface – it does not symbolize or describe. It disengages through neutral form, providing a kind of pit stop in the attempt to represent. It is a moment to savor things in themselves.

By day the surfaces appear to vary almost, but never quite. They are smudged and stammering, with moire like images of clouds or water or vegetation, a shimmering mirage of reflections. It is an expansive and illusive image of a museum about things we don’t quite know, about things we don’t quite see.

By day, light reflects on the surfaces. By night, light emanates from the surfaces.

By night the exterior become a canvas for a show of light. The art from within bleeds out onto the walls and escapes into the darkness.

By night it is the magical illumination of the skin changing colors and patterns in endless variations which turns the building inside out, revealing its secrets as it broadcasts light, color, and form into the city, duplicated in its reflection in the water.


About the Architect, Stanley Saitowitz and Natoma Architects

Stanley Saitowitz was born in 1949 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in 1975 and his Masters in Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1977. He began his practice in South Africa in 1975. He is professor of architecture at UC Berkeley and has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, UCLA, Rice University, SCI-Arc, the University of Texas in Austin, and the University of Norman, Oklahoma. His work has been widely published in both local and international magazines, and he has earned numerous awards for design and his paintings, drawings, and models exhibited in numerous galleries and museums. He is the Design Principal of Natoma Architects, based in San Francisco.


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