Tampa, Florida and What Its Buildings Said To Me

Keith McBride on August 10, 2016 in Urban Design

I lived in Tampa, Florida for about a decade.  I loved (and still love) that city.  I attended The University of Tampa, which is a small school (well, it was much smaller back then . . . ) with an urban, downtown campus.

Since this post is going to be about public buildings and what they communicate, I’ll share a picture of the university’s main campus building, which at the time I attended housed the school’s administrative offices, the colleges of business and liberal arts and sciences, and a few large meetings rooms for events, speakers, large gatherings, etc.  My point is that about 90% of the things I did at the school took place in this building:

14556770666_b05d6dd4ee_z(Photo by Flickr.com user:  Holmes Palacios, Jr.)

Magnificent, isn’t it?  When I visited the campus, here’s what it said to me:

“This is a special place.”

I distinctly remember getting that feeling.  It’s one of the reasons I picked UTampa over other schools.

I learned a little more about buildings and how they communicate at UTampa.  One professor took our class on a walk through downtown to look at the parks and public buildings, and we talked about how they fit into Tampa’s history.  I learned some incredible things.

For example . . .

This is the intersection of E. Kennedy Blvd and N. Franklin Street, looking East.

The lit building on the left with the clock tower and flagpole on top is Tampa City Hall, built in 1915.  (The clock, btw, is known locally as “Hortense.” No, seriously . . . it is.)  I remember our professor asking, “how do you think you get inside?”  And the answer from the students was: Easily.  There’s a highly-visible covered entry-way which opens right to the sidewalk on Kennedy Blvd.

The concrete monolith to the right of City Hall in the pic is the former city hall, built in the 1960s or maybe 1970s.  To the best of my recollection, it was used as the primary home local government for a short time. Where do you go in?  The base of the building is obstructed with trees and shrubs.  There are literally NO windows.   The building is still used for some municipal offices, but to be honest, after living there for a decade (and working for about 2 years in the pinkish office building at the far left of the picture), I never once saw anyone ever go in or out, so I still don’t know if an entrance actually exists.

One building says “Come in!”  The other says, “Try and get in, if you can.”

One building says, “Windows.  We operate in the sunshine.”  The other says, “Walls.  You can’t see what were doing in here, and we love flourescent lights.”

One is layered, historic yellow with white accents, like a cake.  The other is undecorated. Blank.  Bland.

During the time that City Hall operated out of the building on the right, my professor told us, the local government was corrupt and lost the faith and trust of many residents.  The building suggests the disconnect, doesn’t it?  It screams isolation.

I’m not an architect, so I don’t suggest design techniques to developers when they are exploring new commercial or industrial buildings in town.  I encourage them to hire architects if they need help with design.  Freeport has a Design Review Ordinance that preserves the historic and traditional New England feel of the town, so I am quick to present the ordinance requirements with project developers when these questions arise.  That’s as much guidance as I am qualified to give.  But, in reality, no retail developer would ever propose something like the concrete-slab building in the picture, because they understand how their space communicates to customers.

I’m not aware of any public buildings in Maine which are as drastically inaccessible as the one from Tampa pictured above, but I still think it’s worth mentioning.  And at the very least, it’s an interesting historical anecdote about a place I love.