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Angular and lean, the brand new St. Pete Pier in St. Petersburg, Florida, folds its method for 1,380 toes from land to water. Under a brilliant, scorching solar, even 10 toes could also be just some too many.

The pier’s many shifts, crossings, and cantilevers, made doable by greater than 400 concrete pylons, make the journey appear moderately easy, nevertheless. This new addition to St. Petersburg’s city infrastructure is extra of a networked association of areas than a single object, the latter a deadly flaw that compromised the earlier pier and contributed to its obsolescence and eventual demolition.

Subtle transitions enable the brand new pier’s structure and panorama to take turns and talk in a cohesive language whereas surfaces transfer up and down and laterally in plan and part. The roughly 3,000 toes from the start of the Pier District, which begins downtown, to the Pier Head constructing on the finish aren’t all seen without delay. Instead, the journey is split right into a sequence of manageable segments with loads of respite alongside the best way. Residents and vacationers of all ages transfer alongside shared walks that start with gateway components consisting of an elaborate pergola, an outside market, and mature plantings preserved from the earlier pier. Visitors rapidly transition from downtown pace to park pace. Free trams share a curbless area and go by diverse packages that promote buy-local tradition, public artwork that modifications dramatically at evening, sculptural play areas that combine earthwork with native plantings, and a central civic plaza whose grand expanse and water options accommodate programming massive and small.

New eating places and pavilions enable one to pause, eat, take heed to reside music, folks watch, get near the water, and perhaps even assist pattern it and be taught one thing new in regards to the bay at a nonprofit-run ecological discovery heart. The broad palette of experiences results in the Pier Head, the place fishing is allowed and the place beer is served (and in demand)—even on Mondays at 11:00 a.m.—on the rooftop bar. One could, actually, resolve to by no means get to the Pier Head, and the expertise wouldn’t be the lesser for it given all the brand new choices.

The built-in plan mixes plazas, buildings, cover buildings, and native timber and vegetation all through. Photo by Rich Montalbano/RiMO Photo, LLC.

The attraction to and reliance on the sting the place land meets water in Tampa Bay was strengthened by St. Petersburg’s authentic city plan, which made the pier’s significance to the town each essential and inevitable. The first platted plan of the town, drafted in 1888, exhibits broad 100-foot-wide rights-of-way, organized into an everyday grid that coated about two-thirds the scale of New York’s Central Park in an city plan that one would have anticipated for a a lot bigger metropolis. The solely interruptions to this rectangular order have been a lake, a park, and a pier.

Reservoir Lake, later often called Mirror Lake, offered the town with a vital spring-fed water provide. Williams Park, initially a wily vegetated grove named after one of many metropolis’s founders, turned the city heart. The crisp geometry of a single pier, prominently proven within the 1888 plan with its cardinal axis operating east–west, nevertheless, underscored its significance as a vital artery connecting metropolis and bay. The constructed construction jutted 3,000 toes into the water and carried the town’s first rail vehicles. The eponymous Railroad Pier lasted greater than 50 years till it was torn down in 1952. Six different piers adopted, every with its personal declare to St. Petersburg historical past and identification, earlier than as we speak’s Pier Park opened on July 6, 2020. As a outstanding image because the metropolis’s founding, it’s troublesome to consider St. Petersburg with out the pier and the pier with out St. Petersburg.

The metropolis’s subtropical environment on the time of its founding additionally performed a task in its city kind. The dense ecologies of noticed palmetto, slash pine, and cabbage palmettos close by, and the irregular, water-filled pockmarks of a karst panorama just a few miles away, seemed nothing like the town’s Cartesian plan. To metropolis founders who got here from so far as St. Petersburg, Russia; Detroit; and Philadelphia, the city plan will need to have conveyed an aspirational stability that augured a affluent future the place its connection to the water could be important. Both Pier District design groups included a few of these native ecologies and geomorphologies into their plans, not solely to make sure the panorama’s longevity in a tricky coastal setting, but additionally to have fun it as a part of the town’s regional identification.

Former parking tons at the moment are the setting for native plantings which are resilient and consultant of the area. Photo courtesy W Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

The Pier District, which consists of the brand new Pier Park fronting Tampa Bay and the Pier Approach that results in it, begins on the japanese fringe of Straub Park, a leafy, 10-acre greenway that homes the town’s Museum of Fine Arts and sits on the sting of the town’s downtown waterfront. The Pier District creates a sequence of interconnected out of doors areas the place the general public has a chance to hurry up, decelerate, and cease. The linear expertise that one would anticipate from some other pier is as an alternative one in all ample diagonals, grade modifications, and shifts in framed views that broaden the expertise in each route.

All age teams, ethnicities, and athletic inclinations appear snug right here. Despite the numerous actions and people who the Pier District accommodates, the presence of safety employees and different public security accoutrements which are a part of nearly each public area as we speak appear to fade to the background. Couples lean in opposition to each other to catch water views, marriage ceremony tents are assembled and disassembled, grandmas hold a watchful eye on close by tricycles, younger dad and mom appear to have sufficient room to let children run round with out main penalties, and so they all appear to suit proper in with out getting in one another’s method at a vacation spot that asks for no reservations or entrance charges. The district appears to supply for everybody and is a welcome counterpoint to the quiet and extra conventional if soporific Straub Park that frames its entrance. Having had a chance to expertise St. Petersburg earlier than and after the brand new pier, its social, financial, and environmental heart appears to have shifted east towards the water with this new vacation spot.

In 2014, Ken Smith, FASLA, and Rob Rogers, the principals of New York-based Ken Smith Workshop and Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, respectively, teamed up with the Tampa workplace of ASD | SKY to enter the competitors to exchange the earlier pier with their profitable Pier Park design. The second key a part of the Pier District plan was the 20-acre Pier Approach, led by Barbara Wilks, FASLA, the principal of W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, additionally primarily based in New York. Wilks, who teamed up with St. Petersburg’s Wannemacher Jensen Architects, connects the town’s edge to Smith’s and Rogers’s Pier Park to the east. The complementary tasks remodel the Pier District and render it unrecognizable from its former self.

Early iterations of the pier tried to steadiness the leisure and the useful. Though it met the sensible wants of accommodating the stream of products as a part of the town’s first rail line, the pier and its waterfront rapidly turned a spot for leisure. Postcards memorialized the pier’s bathhouses, ballrooms, leisure fishing decks, and civic occasions that welcomed hundreds and outlined the St. Pete Pier as a reliably thrilling vacation spot. The leisure facilities ultimately edged out the loading docks and warehouses, even when the wants of rail vehicles and personal automobile entry remained.

Versions of the pier have come and gone, celebrating the spirit, financial aspirations, and applied sciences of their time. Hundreds of incandescent lights earned the Electric Pier (1906–1913) its identify. The open-air deck of the Million Dollar Pier (1926–1967) match hundreds and served because the setting for lavish celebrations. The Inverted Pyramid (1973–2013) that preceded as we speak’s Pier Park was boldly iconoclastic, designed by the architect William Harvard to maximise unobstructed water views on the floor degree, very similar to the Pier Park design staff could be anticipated to do almost 50 years later.

Ken Smith Workshop’s Tilted Lawn folds the park’s topography to create a 360-degree vantage level; its sculptural oculus casts dynamic shadows under. Photo by Rich Montalbano/RiMO Photo, LLC.

An open floor airplane was an aspiration that ran its course on the Inverted Pyramid. The temptation to litter it with kiosks, indicators, vehicular entry, parking, fish-cleaning stations, and retail proved too onerous to withstand. What was as soon as a hanging architectural object slowly turned crowded by a group of smaller issues at its base. Its story is maybe cautionary given the propensity to have a look at the open area round rigorously designed structure as low-hanging fruit for misguided retail retrofits. The harsh and unforgiving marine surroundings took its toll on the Inverted Pyramid quickly after its development, requiring ever-increasing repairs that created ongoing structural and monetary challenges regardless of renovations. As iconic because the Inverted Pyramid was when it was first constructed, it slowly turned the proverbial cake not noted within the rain that no quantity of market consulting may save. It was demolished in 2015.

The design of the 2 new tasks—the Pier Park and the Approach—that collectively make the brand new St. Pete Pier District was the results of two totally different choice processes that passed off at totally different occasions after a earlier competitors faltered. In the top, the 20-acre Pier Approach value $20 million, and the 12-acre Pier Park value $56 million, with a complete price ticket of $93 million that included ancillary tasks comparable to new seawalls and underground utility infrastructure for the district. Together, the Pier Approach and Pier Park create an armature of areas that may be a departure from the historic linear pier’s singular axis.

The success or failure of an endeavor of that scale and civic import would predictably depend upon the flexibility of doubtless disparate panorama groups to work collectively. Both design groups underwent a rigorous and prolonged evaluate course of with heightened public scrutiny given the historical past of a earlier pier competitors, which granted a unanimous win to Michael Maltzan Architecture in 2012 however ultimately rejected it in 2013 by neighborhood referendum. Given that false begin, no matter got here from a subsequent competitors would probably be seen as a vindication or a idiot’s errand.

Janet Echelman’s Bending Arc hangs gracefully above the karst-inspired panorama under it. Photo courtesy Brian Adams/Studio Echelman.

The integration of considerable public artwork parts, the biggest of which was Janet Echelman’s Bending Arc, with a formidable footprint of almost 50,000 sq. toes, got here after schematic plans have been accomplished for the Pier District. The difficult chronology hardly issues now, judging from how seamlessly the sculpture is built-in by the W Architecture and Landscape Architecture staff. Colorful Adirondack chairs are moved in regards to the area under it, and round berms rise and fall subtly from the garden to turn into seating, karst-inspired land artwork, and unintentional bicycle ramps that in all probability weren’t anticipated to be among the many mixture of deliberate makes use of.

Echelman’s ephemeral internet hangs delicately overhead, its altering shadows casting softly on the bottom in the course of the day and its dramatic colours shifting spectacularly at evening. The sculpture was impressed by Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrases “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” and refers back to the position of Spa Beach (on the Pier District’s northern edge) within the 1957 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the rights of all residents to make use of the seaside with out discrimination. The pier’s symbolic and literal embrace of inclusivity mirrors the town’s advances elsewhere on this entrance given the discriminatory legacy of its waterfront parks and piers. The Million Dollar Pier and hundreds of inexperienced benches that have been as soon as part of St. Petersburg’s public panorama, for instance, have been unwelcome symbols of segregation to its Black residents. Now, for the primary time within the metropolis’s historical past—greater than 100 years—two Black girls are serving on St. Petersburg’s metropolis council, and the St. Pete Pier has turn into a proud image of inclusivity for the town.

Bending Arc references the town’s struggles with civil rights and Spa Beach’s position in a Supreme Court ruling that favored nondiscriminatory use of public area. Photo courtesy Brian Adams/Studio Echelman.

W Architecture and Landscape Architecture’s Pier Approach strives to create areas for all, and the challenge rigorously integrates public and vehicular entry to parking areas which are accessible but largely screened from view. The Pier Approach challenge features a stormwater administration technique that overlays paths, bridges, swales, and ponds to encourage wandering and exploration, a cantilevering pedestrian deck the place egrets, herons, and ducklings can now be noticed, and a preferred shaded playground that’s nested right into a berm and, judging from the decibels of some web site visits, is kind of profitable. New shade components are most dramatically on view on the entrance Market Plaza and Pavilions, the place a photo voltaic cover defines the area. Existing oaks that suffered via years of soil compaction within the former parking areas are given a brand new life on the north facet of the Pier Approach, the place a ferry terminal is deliberate. Large round retaining partitions defend their roots whereas doubling as seat partitions. The Pier Approach units the stage for Pier Park to the east whereas protecting the consistency of the rugged materials palette of concrete, metallic, wooden, and native plantings of each tasks and the geometry of diagonals that hyperlinks them.

Pier Park’s profitable transfer to get rid of vehicles from the pier was a daring departure from all earlier pier iterations. Highly controversial, the transfer almost brought on the staff to be eradicated, they mentioned, and the dangerous determination was berated by the general public for being insensitive to guests in search of easy accessibility to the Pier Head. “The tram was a good response to that…it was complicated to figure out how to not have curbs [for fire trucks and emergency vehicles] and make it feel narrow and shared,” says Ken Smith. “[The city] did have a design to put a traffic circle,” provides Wilks. “Luckily it was also more expensive.” The different two finalist schemes [ALMA/Alfonso Architects, Inc., and Destination St. Pete Pier/St. Pete Design Group] each saved vehicles.

The central plaza’s fountain faces the Tilted Lawn and offers ample gathering areas with a number of entry factors to the pier. Photo by Rich Montalbano/RiMO Photo, LLC.

While the comfort of with the ability to drive to the top would possibly seem to be an apparent benefit, it could have meant negotiating and interrupting an in any other case panoramic expertise of the water, free from the unpredictability of drivers. The argument for vehicles is difficult to grasp as we speak when one sees folks of all ages utilizing the whole size on weekends and weekdays and exceeding all expectations of consumer counts. “We forget how much we have advanced in the last six years societally about cars and shared spaces,” says Rob Rogers. According to City Architect Raul Quintana, Pier Park is on observe to far exceed the Inverted Pyramid’s visitation document, with nearly 69,000 visitor visits throughout opening week alone and regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic’s challenges.

The starting of the pier the place the bottom begins to peel up and over Tampa Bay is anchored by an area known as the Tilted Lawn, which has a dramatic oculus cutout and a grouping of huge, hand-operated umbrellas. The garden accomplishes a number of targets via its monumentality. Not solely does it elevate the bottom airplane to create a vantage level in an in any other case flat floor that defines most piers (and Florida), however it’s massive sufficient to accommodate the oculus whose shadows animate the area beneath all through the day and create one of many pier’s extra dramatic if minimalist stopping factors. As the backdrop of two fountain splash pads with angular shapes that rise from the bottom to the west, the Tilted Lawn works on the city scale of the pier’s central plaza by creating an edge that enhances a broad flight of stairs resulting in Spa Beach to the north, a restaurant pavilion to the west, and a vegetated space often called the Cultural Grove to the south. The water options function playgrounds in addition to angular geometric types that foreground the horizon and function a counterpoint to the billowing passing clouds. When dry, the fountains turn into land artwork, their lengthy triangular types tapering to the bottom. The exterior faces of the fountain’s perimeter berms are pigmented to outline the grade change round them, which creates a noticeable boundary that highlights their footprint and offers a visible cue for the downslope that helps folks navigate its edges.

The Coastal Thicket’s overwater planters present an elevated boardwalk, native plantings, and a wayward detour from the extra direct pier entry. Photo © Barrett Doherty, ASLA.

Beyond the central plaza, Ken Smith Workshop’s overwater planters known as Coastal Thickets on the northern fringe of the pier present a dramatic and refreshing pause that immerses pedestrians in native ecological habitat. Consisting of 4 30-foot-wide segments that stretch for nearly 1 / 4 mile, the elevated (and labeled) planting beds constructed on construction over water incorporate a zigzag path that at occasions extends over the sting and offers one other key vantage level to view the town and perceive the ecology of the area. Had they been smaller, maybe they’d be extra weak to the weather, however their sheer scale has to date ensured a lushness whose inexperienced is a satisfying distinction to the pier’s many concrete surfaces.

At the Pier Head, the constructing on the very finish of the St. Pete Pier designed by Rogers, a 30-foot cantilevered roof floats over an equally massive terrace as if it have been an urban-scale porch that serves as lookout, occasion area, and eating vacation spot. The constructing accommodates a breezeway and stairs in the midst of the core, which allows a relentless breeze. The construction prioritizes panoramic views to each bay and metropolis, east and west, and barely twists its axis to emphasise a wider view that doesn’t simply look again on the pier’s principal alignment however contains views of the seaside to the north and a broader swath of a metropolis that’s now Florida’s fifth largest since its founding greater than 130 years in the past.

The Pier Head constructing depends on a relationship to the garden and occasion area at its base to finish the expertise of the pier’s terminus. Fishing now occurs on a beneficiant deck on the east facet of the constructing—an enchancment from the earlier pier, the place guests needed to dodge anglers and abdomen fish-cleaning stations earlier than arriving on the finish. Together, the panorama of the bottom airplane on the Pier Head creates versatile open areas that may accommodate just a few dozen or just a few thousand.

Unlike earlier iterations of the pier, the complementary language of panorama and structure contends with the threats of local weather change and storm surge whereas offering ample area for public gathering, whether or not it faces metropolis or bay. Along the north facet of the pier, a breakwater reef construction manufactured from native lime rock and oyster shells dampens the erosional results of onshore wave motion and permits the pure formation of a sand seaside. In a spot the place hurricanes proceed to form the ecologies and landforms of the area and are able to carving gaps in barrier islands like one did in 1848, the brand new St. Pete Pier units a regular for resilience in one in all its extra seen and common public areas. A outstanding emblem of Twenty first-century city infrastructure, the St. Pete Pier embraces the town’s primordial connection to the water as a chance and appears to form the way forward for the area and past for a few years to return.

Spaces main as much as the Pier Head embrace a low central fountain, the Coastal Thickets overwater planters, and the Tilted Lawn. Photo by Rich Montalbano/RiMO Photo, LLC.


Ken Smith, FASLA, Ken Smith Workshop

“I love all the big moves that we did, but what really makes them work is paying attention to the grading. I did most of the grading on the site, and I did it several times because it kept changing over time. When I’ve been teaching and practicing, it’s very common for landscape architecture practitioners to say grading is a real art form, and I believe that. Engineers do functional grading, but landscape architects do grading that is actually expressive of place. At St. Pete, the landscape is flat, so we had to pick up the grade a bit because the new pier is lifted up higher than the old pier for sustainability and storm surge reasons. We had a landform that is one elevation, and we had to lift the pier up to a higher elevation, so part of the plaza and the Tilted Lawn is about how you lift that up and do it in a way that is actually interesting and really expressive of creating spaces. It’s a little bit weird, but I was thinking of the French garden and André Le Nôtre, who would lift up terrains to change your perspective and perception of space.”


Barbara Wilks, FASLA, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture

“I’m actually proud that we saved nearly all the timber and they’re sitting in a panorama and actually appear like they belong there. We constructed an oak pine forest that is without doubt one of the habitats of Central Florida. We had a whole lot of pine, which individuals appear to love; offering that panorama was a pleasant distinction to the largely hardscape of the pier, and other people appear to get pleasure from it.

I’m pleasantly stunned that folks adopted it. The consumer known as and mentioned they’re doing drum circles on the garden! It’s nice as a panorama architect to design a spot that folks reply to and revel in. The sculpture had quite a bit to do with it. We received folks to the water’s edge—that was an enormous one. Combining the 2 sections and creating the circulation sample that match Rogers’s scheme, I believe we did a superb job on that. It actually all works as one factor.”

Project Credits

Client The City of St. Petersburg, Florida.


Prime Consultant W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Brooklyn, New York. Architect of Record Wannemacher Jensen Architects, St. Petersburg, Florida. Civil and Structural Engineers Kimley-Horn, St. Petersburg, Florida. Playground Consultant Earthscape, Wallenstein, Ontario, Canada. Lighting Consultant/Structural Engineer for Art Arup, New York. Electrical Engineers and Security VoltAir, Tampa, Florida.


Design Architect Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, Houston and New York. Executive Architect ASD | SKY, Tampa, Florida. Design Landscape Architect Ken Smith Workshop, New York. Executive Landscape Architect Booth Design Group, St. Petersburg, Florida. Lighting Design Renfro Design Group, New York. Design Structural Engineering and Marine Engineering Thornton Tomasetti, Tampa, Florida. Structural and MEPS Engineering TLC Engineering Solutions, Tampa, Florida. Civil, Marine, and Environmental Consultants Stantec, Tampa, Florida. Coastal Engineer Humiston and Moore Engineers, Naples, Florida. Geotechnical Engineer Terracon, Tampa, Florida. Fire Protection and Life Safety Code Consultant FP&C Consultants, Inc., Kansas City, Missouri. Environmental Permitting Landon Moree, Palm Harbor, Florida. Construction Manager Skanska, Tampa, Florida.

Roberto J. Rovira, ASLA, is a panorama architect and educator primarily based in Miami, the place he chairs the panorama structure program at Florida International University and runs Studio Roberto Rovira.


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