Edgy Architect Gets Nod for New Tampa Museum of Art

New Museum Site

His work has been described as 'edgy' and 'exciting,' but as someone who may be somewhat difficult to work with.

Stanley Saitowitz is renowned in architectural circles for his modernist designs, replete with cubes and glass and bare concrete. One drawback mentioned is that his California office is three thousand miles away.

Several members of the museum's building committee commended Saitowitz for his groundbreaking designs, but expressed concern that it could be hard to get the voices of locals heard. Committee member William Blanchard:

BLANCHARD: Giving Saitowitz the job would be kind of like writing a blank check - let's hope he does something we like.

After the museum's building committee discussed the merits of the three finalists for several hours, the board of trustees gave its thumbs-up to Saitowitz in mere minutes.

SOUND: We have a motion, we have a second, is there any further discussion. All those in favor, aye. Any opposed? All right (cheers)...

Interim museum director Ken Rollins says he's looking forward to working with the South African-born architect.

ROLLINS: He is a very inspiring person and extremely articulate, not only about the history of architecture, but about the context of his work, but about museums and philosophically how museums should functions.

Just before the vote, board member Peter Hepner said it would help the public forget about the the ill-fated selection of Rafael Vinoly's design five years ago. It was turned down because of its controversial design and cost.

HEPNER: We didn't think that Tampa could afford any mistakes and this is a gentlemen who will listen to us, and he will create something that's truly special, that will define the city, and I think that when it's all said and done, he will provide his solution - and with our involvement - he will provide a buildng that will truly make us forget about the Vinoly.

Earlier, Blanchard said having an iconic building needs to be inviting to 'regular folk.'

BLANCHARD: And sometimes, iconic architecture can be off-putting to the general public. It can make you feel small and uncomfortable in the space. And so I think it's important that whatever we do, is inviting to the common man and makes him want to come and stay in the museum. And I don't think this structure does this currently.

Since the city is kicking in only a fraction of the money needed, Blanchard says the architect that is chosen should be able to help raise money for the museum.

BLANCHARD: We do not has as broad-based support as we should. Our attendance shows it, our fundraising shows it, a few people have given a lot of money, but not the broad-based support. And that affects our ability to get public dollars - the things that have happened in the past few years might have happened differently if we had 200,000 visitors a year and 100,000 members, versus thirty-some thousand trips a year and 1,000 members.

Rollins says the museum hopes to sign a contract with Saitowitz by the end of the year, with work beginning in January on a design.

ROLLINS: I am absolutely confident that this will be delivered -and in the time frame that we've laid out - by the end of 2008, we should have this building open and ready to go.

The new building will eventually be around 120,000 square feet, to be built in several phases. The first phase will be half that size, with a budget of $25 million.

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