Common ground

Get deeper into the built environment with this weekend’s CL Festival events.

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click to enlarge CRUISE CONTROL: Captain Larry will be at the helm for Saturday’s Hillsborough River tour. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
CRUISE CONTROL: Captain Larry will be at the helm for Saturday’s Hillsborough River tour.

“Architecture is surely our greatest physical symbol of our idea of community, our surest way to express in concrete form our belief in the notion of common ground.” So says the Pulitizer Prize-winning critic Paul Goldberger in his book Why Architecture Matters. He goes on to say that the very best way to learn about architecture is to experience it.

So here’s an open invitation to join me for a few architectural adventures under the auspices of the Creative Loafing Festival, part of this weekend’s celebration of CL’s 25th birthday.

On Friday evening, at the dynamic [email protected] in downtown St. Pete, I will engage four award-winning architects in a lively exchange entitled “Straw into Gold: the Alchemy of Architecture.” Yann Weymouth, Albert Alfonso, Taryn Sabia and James Moore, all locally based but with national reputations, will offer insights about how our area can evolve, design-wise, and their feelings about architecture.

I plan to ask them about their first passion: When did they first swoon before a building or a place? “Buildings instill within us emotional reactions. They can make us feel and they can also make us think,” mused Goldberger. For architecture is experiential and sensual, an art as well as a science, and it offers the opportunity for personal and community transformation.

The challenge of talking about architecture is that buildings are not separate from their surroundings — it’s a package deal. Goldberger said that lots of “B” and even “C” buildings taken as a neighborhood are more important than an “A” building which is isolated. We need it all; richness is found in variety.

Goldberger spoke of his student days, when modernism claimed the moral high ground as the only acceptable design form, with materials “honestly” showing their qualities and ornamentation viewed as suspect. But secretly he was seduced by the beauty and romanticism of Yale’s gothic dorms and wrote his senior thesis on their architecture. What a gift for a university to offer students immersion in physical beauty.

His candid admission of being moved by the charm of his campus reflected my own experience of falling in love with New Orleans’ architecture and streetscapes, which made me a devotee of well-crafted decaying buildings and mixed-use neighborhoods. (I was there before Big Oil money spiffed everything up.)

My happiest student memories at Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University were riding my bike endlessly through the Garden District, noting that the only people in evidence around the mansions and cottages were the painters, gardeners and housekeepers — architecture also reflecting the economics and cultural mores of a place and time.

But I digress. The architectural discussion will be followed by a guided gallery tour via trolley in St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District, led by CL Visual Art Critic Megan Voeller, and then, for those who want to hang in the district into the night, there’s a block party at select venues with music and refreshments. This kind of urban experience wouldn’t be the same in a suburban parking lot; in fact, it would be impossible. We need the funky old buildings and the density of crowds for a street party to work.

Viewing downtown Tampa from the water on a Saturday morning with mimosas and bagels is another mode of enhancing our appreciation of Tampa Bay. Captain Larry, a charmer from New Jersey who owns Tampa Water Taxi Company, will take 30 passengers on his launch, steering us from the Davis Islands, Marjorie Park Marina to the Channel District and the Port and swinging up the Hillsborough River.

Here’s some of what you’ll be seeing on the tour:

• Modest, shipbuilder tract homes from the 1940s standing across the Channel from the 10,000-square-foot manses at Harbour Island’s tip

• The port’s funky industrial side, with its ship-cleaning equipment and cement tanks

• Floating hotels (aka cruise ships) rising over 100 feet in the Channel District, totally distorting your sense of scale

• The hardened shoreline of the working port giving way to the newly softened edge of the mangrove restoration adjacent to Cotanchobee Park

• The almost-completed Riverwalk, its combination of water views, public art and lush landscaping making it one of the loveliest public spaces in the Bay area

• Crew-racing territory, with the gaudy graphic imprints of visiting teams who come here to practice and race

• Commercial buildings, parks and works-in-progress, such as the mid-century modern IBM building morphing into an Aloft Hotel

Yodeling under the bridges is sure to expand your urban experience as you head for harbor, with your senses full of new vistas. Home to post all your photos before heading out to Ybor City for the 25th Birthday Bash at the Ritz. What a weekend!

Fri. April 19: Straw into Gold: The Alchemy of Architecture. [email protected], 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, 6-7 p.m., $5 donation. Warehouse Arts District Tour: beginning at [email protected] at 7:15 p.m. or Craftsman House at 7 p.m., continuing through the district till around 9:30 or 10 p.m. Block Party: U562, Dan’s Place, Zen Glass, multiple bands, 8 p.m., $10.

Sat., April 20: The View from the River. 1 1/2 hour boat ride w. Linda Saul-Sena and the Sierra Club’s Phil Compton, 10 a.m.-noon, launching at Davis Islands’ Marjorie Park Marina. Mimosas and bagels served. $25.

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