Commercial Designs of Distinction

By Hannah Wallace September 30, 2005

Love 'em; hate 'em. Everyone, it seems, has strong opinions about the new crop of commercial buildings. This was the year local commercial design broke out of the Med Rev mold, with fresh materials like glass and tile, and bold colors (curved purple columns, anyone?). Some of the projects, like the Herald-Tribune's brave new futuristic headquarters, seem destined for landmark status. Others, like the elegant redo of the 1920s-era Sarasota Times building, are preserving yesterday's landmarks. Here, in our second annual compilation of Commercial Designs of Distinction, we highlight the best efforts of local architects and designers.


Project Architect: SMRT, Inc., Arthur Thompson; TOTeMs, Todd Sweet and Arif Abdulla

Contractor: Hardin Construction Company

The sleek new 10-story Courthouse Centre has completely transformed what was a parking lot gone-to-seed at the southwest corner of Washington Boulevard and Main Street in downtown Sarasota. The mixed-use complex broke new ground as the first modernist downtown office complex in over 20 years in a city once known for its modern architecture. With ground-floor restaurants, retail establishments and a bank; offices; a 421-car parking garage; and two-story loft-style condominiums on top, it is also the first to be completed of the city's new breed of mixed-use projects.


Project Architect: Arquitectonica International; Bernardo Fort Brescia, Jenifer Briley, Robert Gallagher and Alfonso Jurado

Contractor: Turner Construction Company

The new Herald-Tribune and SNN6 headquarters is an homage to the Sarasota School of Architecture that catapults the modernist tradition into the 21st century. The Miami firm of Arquitectonica designed a two-story rectangular glass box with an undulating folded roof that acts as a giant overhang (a key element of the modern architecture produced in Sarasota in the 1950s). The lobby is a light-filled, two-story glass cube. Arquitectonica-which became an international sensation for its condominium tower with a keyhole cutout sporting a lone palm tree, which was featured in the opening credits of Miami Vice-knows a thing or two about making a statement; the air of open accessibility conveyed by the newspaper building speaks loud and clear.


Project Architect: Seibert Architects; Sam Holladay and Dale Parks

Contractor: D.E. Murphy Constructors

After years of squabbling between city and county officials, the snappy new public bus transfer depot finally opened last spring to great accolades. The canopied open-air pavilion, tiled in various shades of coastal blue, is a far cry from the handful of dilapidated wooden benches that served as the bus depot for two decades. Seven bus bays are arranged in a saw tooth plan to facilitate bus arrivals and departures. Underneath the canopy are public restrooms, a driver's lounge and ticket booth. The architects intended the bright, modern transfer station to serve as a symbolic gateway to the adjacent Sarasota City Hall, and they succeeded on all cylinders.


Project Architect: Lawson Group Architects; Don Lawson, Farrell Wood and Anthony Catalano

Contractor: W.G. Mills

Strength, stability, tradition and stewardship radiate from the new Community Foundation of Sarasota County headquarters on Fruitville Road, exactly the qualities the foundation board wants to communicate to its potential donors. The calm exterior belies the enormous activity that takes place inside; besides housing offices for foundation staff, the center has two state-of-the-art meeting rooms in which more than 7,000 people have already attended workshops and receptions. In just a year, the building has become a highly visible icon along one of Sarasota's busiest roads.


Project Architect: Inbar Design; Yehuda Inbar

Contractor: Zirkelbach Construction

A 50-foot-tall, fire engine-red metal pole playfully beckons neighbors to the new Englewood YMCA. The pole and its cables, which support the building's front canopy, are meant to evoke a campground tent, says architect Yehuda Inbar. Nature is brought inside the corrugated metal building with an 80-foot-tall grand clerestory lobby with central water feature and row of palms. The idea, Inbar says, is to think of a YMCA not as a fitness center, but as a vital method of building community.


Project Architect: The ADP Group; Javier Suarez, principal in charge; Javi Suarez Jr., designer; Maurice Estrada, William Carrillo and James Dickason, production; Glenn Graves, graphics

Contractor: Halfacre Construction

A new house of worship for the region's largest Reform Jewish congregation employs geometry (a reference to the Star of David in the way its masses end in a point) and building materials (a rusticated stone exterior with a hue similar to Jerusalem stone) to subtly evoke the symbols of Judaism. "We didn't try to be overtly symbolic," says architect Javi Suarez Jr. "We designed it as a backdrop to the people and events that happen there, the things that make a place your own." The new complex, with a classroom wing, administrative offices, chapel, social hall and sanctuary, opened just in time for the High Holidays.


Contractor: D.E. Murphy Constructors

Built during the Florida land boom of the mid-1920s, the three-story Sarasota Times building on First Street was allowed to quietly deteriorate as the boom of the past decade transformed downtown Sarasota all around it. Don and Lisa Murphy rescued it two years ago and spent last year restoring the exterior to its original condition: repairing the cupola, balcony and mansard roofs and replacing the original steel windows with exact replicas manufactured in New York. It's a welcome sign in a town that hasn't always treated its landmark buildings with respect.


Project Architect: Carl Abbott Architects/Planners; Carl Abbott, Julian Norman-Webb and Chris Jackson

Contractor: D.E. Murphy Constructors

A clean, serene and contemplative expansion of this public library doubled its square footage and reoriented the building toward an existing lake and what the architects call a new "village square"-an exterior community space that complements the existing indoor 150-seat auditorium. Also inside, indirect natural light infuses the quiet reading areas.


Project Architect: David Michael Davenport

Contractor: Mather and Gerdes

Contemporary meets traditional in the Meadows Community Center, a fitting compromise since the 10,000-square-foot center houses both the development's master association and all 51 additional condominium and homeowners associations, plus their related assembly and recreational activities.


Project Architect: Guy Peterson, principal designer; John Pichette, designer and project manager

Contractor: Tandem Construction

Nature dictated the form of the new headquarters of Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida. Modernist architects Guy Peterson and John Pichette tackled the challenging 12-acre site off Proctor and Cattlemen roads by integrating six acres of wetlands into the design, working around beautiful trees and providing views from the inside and a buffer on the outside to protect the environment. The campus contains two buildings, one for administration and one for Girl Scout training, each about 13,000 square feet. The architects used dramatic black sloping forms of metal-"like shadows in the forest," says Peterson-big glass walls and then grounded the structures with off-white stucco. At night the entire campus lights up, showing angular, geometric lines against the soft organic roundness of nature.

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