Saitowitz's Splendid Savings

Saitowitz's Splendid Savings

The Tampa Art Museum is the first major new building in downtown in a decade.
Richard Barnes

While Stanley Saitowitz has been given the brush-off by his hometown art museum, SFMOMA (he does not appear to be on the controversial shortlist for its upcoming expansion), his newly completed Tampa Art Museum shows his ability to deliver bang for the buck.

Saitowitz’s design was not the first considered by the museum, whose collection had long outgrown its size. In 2001, the museum hired Rafael Viñoly, whose $76 million-dollar proposal ended up being too costly. The Saitowitz design cost a mere $26 million, meaning that the 66,000-square-foot structure went for about $400 per square foot, not including land acquisition.

The art resides in the building’s second and third stories, which makes the building appear to float as its facade is drawn into the lobby while also serving the practical purpose of flood protection.

The architect describes this relative economy as a virtue of the project. “It was driven first and foremost to display art, instead of conceived as an independent artwork,” Saitowitz said. “It makes a statement in its reticence rather than in its singularity.”

The new Tampa Art Museum’s spare orthogonality is classically modernist, with no curving lines or jagged angles, in many ways eschewing the aesthetic that has so dominated cultural institutions in recent years. The entry level is clear glass, and the two stories above, which contain all the art (raised safely above flood levels), are contained in a metal box that appears to float, cantilevered over the first floor.

The stark white galleries are designed to be simple and efficient with room to expand in the future as the collection continues to grow.

The shimmering cladding of the box is made of two layers of perforated anodized aluminum, separated by a gap and slightly offset, which creates interesting moire effects. Within, the galleries are completely white, with concrete floors, to better show off the artworks. The two big cutouts—one is a covered sculpture terrace, the other an open-air void with a bridge across it—hint at the modular nature of the design.

The museum has a very regular floorplan, consisting of two square units, each containing nine blocks. One unit contains the public galleries, the other the museum offices. “One of the realities about museums is that they are about collecting and always have to expand,” said Saitowitz. “So rather than design this as a closed object, the museum was designed with the idea that they could double their gallery space in the future.”

The facade facing the bay is studded with color-changing LEDs. the Building’s other three sides will also be illuminated if funding can be Secured.

At night, the side of the museum that faces the water is awash in color, thanks to LED lighting (the other sides have been wired to do the same, and await funding to be turned on). “It’s the first real work of architecture in Tampa in a decade, and has exceeded our expectations immensely," said Todd Smith, the museum’s executive director. One presumes that in this case, the architect will be invited back to do any future expansion.