In the last two years, St. Petersburg has seen its cityscape transformed by numerous new landmarks. Now, three firms are seeking the opportunity to rethink an old one: the St. Pete Pier, the 1973 upside-down pyramid that replaced the 1926 Mediterranean Revival-style Million Dollar Pier (itself a replacement for the 1889 original).
The international competition to redesign the Pier began in June, when firms began registering for the chance to create a new $50 million icon for St. Petersburg, one that will be seen as a destination for both city residents and visitors. Over the summer, the field was narrowed to nine, and from those candidates a five-person jury picked three. While public input will be invited, the jury will make the final recommendation, to be submitted for approval to St. Petersburg City Council in February of 2012.
The most outspoken member of the jury so far is also the most prominent: Stanley Saitowitz, principal of San Francisco-based Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects Inc., who's best-known hereabouts for his design of the Tampa Museum of Art. Early on, he dismissed such local favorites as Alfred Alfonso Architects of Chihuly Collection fame ("I'm Chihulied out") and the firm that designed the new Dali Museum, HOK ("boring"); he even rejected the much-esteemed Daniel Libeskind, who's now working on the World Trade Center master plan.
Saitowitz is clear about what he is looking for: "I want a firm that is going to do something I can't even imagine," Saitowitz told CL. "I want to be surprised with imagination."
And he doesn't see that as an unreachable goal for the designers.
"They have an upside-down pyramid to top," Saitowitz said. "The bar isn't set too high."
The jury also includes local architect James Moore, community planning & urban design principal for HDR, a full-service architecture, engineering, planning and consulting company; Susan Fainstein, who teaches urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and worked on the rebuilding of Ground Zero; St. Petersburg City Council member Leslie Curran; and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch.
CL submitted questionnaires to each firm to get a sense of the direction they're heading with their proposals. Read Bjarke Ingels' responses here; the others' answers will be posted as they're received.
Meanwhile, here's a guide to the three design firms hoping to be chosen for the project.
BJARKE INGELS GROUP (BIG)
Copenhagen/New York City
Design aesthetic: "We create architecture by mixing conventional ingredients such as living, leisure, recreation, working, infrastructure, and shopping to realize imaginative and responsible solutions. Our philosophy seeks to find the added value that can be brought to each project site."
Known for: The concept of Hedonistic Sustainability. "Essentially it is to approach the question of sustainability not as a moral dilemma but as a design challenge," Ingels said. "What if sustainability actually becomes a way of increasing life quality?"
Star-chitect: The telegenic Ingels is a star on TED and one of Fast Company magazine's 100 Most Creative People of 2010, but he plays down his status as BIG thinker. Instead, he boasts the credentials of his colleagues, like Thomas Christoffersen, who has worked on such projects as the presidential library in Kazakhstan, and master planner Daniel Kidd, whose resume includes Audi Urban Future and the Loop City master plan.
Famous design: A Copenhagen waste-to-energy powerplant, now under construction, that will also serve as a public ski slope.
Team effort: BIG would act as lead designer; architect of record would be St. Petersburg's Clemmons Architecture, known for its work on a number of local spaces, including the Morean Arts Center, Z Grille and The Independent in Tampa.
The element of surprise: BIG designs can be startling. Tilting Building, a commissioned project in China, is aptly named: it looks like a cereal box tilted into pouring position. And when we asked Ingels in the questionnaire to describe his design "recipe," he referenced Kung Fu Panda and ramen noodles.
Prognosis: We could end up with a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly waterfront that dazzles with innovation and imagination. Or we could wind up with this century's version of the upside-down pyramid.
MICHAEL MALTZAN ARCHITECTURE
Design aesthetic: "Michael Maltzan's work builds upon his background in the arts and focuses on creating new dynamic architectural experiences for visitors. The firm's experience with a wide range of project types, sizes, and budgets, from MoMA to Skid Row, reflects the diversity of our cities."
Known for: MoMA QNS (the Museum of Modern Art's temporary Queens exhibition space); Inner-City Arts and New Carver Apartments (projects built in low-income communities in LA); San Francisco State University Mashouf Performing Arts Center. The engineering team leader on Maltzan's Pier proposal is Craig Schwitter, who worked on the master plan for NYC's wildly successful High Line project with his company, Buro Happold Consulting Engineers.
Elastic man: In an article on the home Maltzan designed for former Hollywood uber-agent Michael Ovitz, W Magazine called the architect the "go-to guy for art collectors in need of major square footage." In the same article, Maltzan described architecture as "elastic art."