Experience on the Water

Experience on the Water

courtesy ASD/rogers partners/ken smith landscape architect

Crowned by an inverted pyramid structure, the Pier of St. Petersburg, Florida leads visitors on a long and narrow journey to the end and back. However, as it stands now, it stops short of providing much value outside of that. A new project headed by New York City–based architecture practice Rogers Partners and Tampa-based ASD will revitalize The Pier by turning it into a multi-dimensional gathering place of both leisure and economic development.

Robert Rogers of Rogers Partners highlighted complexity and flexible functionality as the defining features of the Pier Park (as it will be redubbed). “Really great urban parks have the ability to change their program weekly, monthly, even by generation,” said Rogers. “We want to build a high quality public space that strives toward an iconic experience instead of presenting visitors with just an iconic symbol.

The new park offers a range of amenities in order to provide this experience. The plan demolishes the inverted pyramid, but retains the structure’s elevator and stairway core in deference to the public’s “sentimental affection” for the icon. Four floors are being added that will contain air-conditioned lobbies, a bar and grill, bathrooms, and sweeping views of the bay.

Two classrooms on the ground floor—one indoors, and one “wet” room that utilizes the bay’s waters—offer educational opportunities to young and old alike. A tilted lawn provides seating for up to 4,000 people, and can be used for lounging or for concerts and other outdoor events. The overall structure allows visitors to wander in a dozen different paths, with each one rewarding a different experience. “Open areas, skinny areas, broad areas,” enumerated Rogers. “Over the water and underneath it. The pier is no longer one long linear experience.

courtesy ASD/rogers partners/ken smith landscape architect

Landscape architect Ken Smith expanded upon how the landscape will deepen the pier’s original intention of combining leisure with tourism for economic development. “The pier builds into a long tradition of turning waterfronts into public spaces,” he said. Its many iterations over the decades have always included recreational elements: In the 1950s it housed a dance hall; in the 70s it gained the inverted pyramid. However, this is the first version to incorporate the bay’s native ecology into the experience.

Seagrass grows in the breakwaters. A maze of boardwalks lead visitors through a curated coastal thicket that incorporates local vegetation and connects back to St. Petersburg’s downtown streets. A grove of ornamental flowering trees energizes the landscape while pulling visitors toward the pier’s end. “The landscape emphasizes sustainability and access to the water,” said Smith. He described a point at the end of the pier where a small beach is in the tidal zone so that visitors can sit in the water while also being on the pier. “It’s about getting back to the water,” noted Smith.  All the elements are sensitive to the bay’s need for natural sunlight to keep the vegetation alive, leading to “leaner, skinnier landscape schemes.” Lean as the landscape may be, all the elements converge in order to bring Pier Park into its most fully rounded version yet.

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