As part of a class exercise for the University of Florida School of Architecture's CityLab Sarasota program, students in Advanced Graduate Architectural Design II course were challenged to analyze needs and design possible options for a cultural district along 42-acre Sarasota bayfront.

Although this student project is not affiliated with the Bayfront 20:20 initiative, the vision principles articulated by that citizen-led group were used as a starting point to craft ideas about how a new cultural center might be created.

Bayfront 20:20 Vision Principles

  • Cultural Heritage: rooted in Sarasota's diverse cultural legacy, the bayfront's identity as a cultural, arts, and educational destination will be strengthened.
  • Natural Assets: views of the Bay will be enhanced, and a welcoming, attractive, publicly accessible, safe, family-friendly open space will be developed.
  • Activation: encourage year-round day & night use via outdoor cultural activities, aquatic recreation, and plentiful shade.
  • Connectivity: improved regional connectivity to be provided via safe, convenient, pedestrian, bicycle, and water transit connections.
  • Sustainability: Ecological, economic, and financial sustainability with continuous cooperation among public, private, and non-profit sectors.



Performing arts, symphony, garden club, lawn bowling, arts association, historical center. Add greenspace and recreational space. Possible boat tie-ups, children's museum, aquarium.


Add a 1,600–1,800 seat Sarasota Symphony Orchestra concert hall and a 2,600 seat multi-use performing arts theater (various scenarios for the iconic 1,743 seat Van Wezel were explored).


Maintain view easement limiting buildings to 45' high above FEMA (except for 1-2 new performing arts halls up to 90' tall). New buildings (except parking) a minimum of 100' from other structures.


Add scenic MURT, consider adding kayak launch or boat dock, consider fishing pier / promenade, add public art (sculpture garden, fountain, etc.), add exercise / recreation areas.


Retain the historic structures in the Bayfront Historic District (including iconic buildings by notable Sarasota architects including Thomas Reed Martin, Victor Lundy, and Bert Brosmith).


Add parking to support 3,500 simultaneous userd. Reconfigure roads to support smooth entry, circulation, and egress. Consider car and pedestrian bridges, water taxis, and boat tie-ups.


Van Wezel Performing Arts Centerlogo

  • The landmark Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, has anchored the cultural center for almost 50 years.
  • Built in 1968-9, the Hall seats 1,736. This capacity is comparatively modest for a multi-use performing arts hall, creating economic challenges which impact the profile of performers it can attract and ticket prices.

A new 2,600 seat theater would be better positioned to attract popular acts and could amortize the performer fees across a broader audience.

Sarasota Orchestra logo

  • The acoustical needs of a symphony are difficult to meet in a general performing arts theater. Ideal symphony halls have a "building within a building" to support reverberations and richness, and most use a "shoebox" auditorium design to reflect sound.
  • The Van Wezel's round shape, fan seating, and uncoupled building structure aren't optimal for the immersive listening experiences of a symphony.

Ideally, the Sarasota Orchestra would like to make its permanent home in a dedicated 1,800 seat symphony hall.

Given these program requirements, but mindful of the architectural importance of the iconic Van Wezel, CityLab Sarasota students developed 3 site planning options for the Bayfront Cultural Center:


Taking its cue from a theme of cultural transparency, this team tackled the footprint challenges of keeping the 1,700 seat Van Wezel, and adding both a larger (2,600) performing arts hall and an 1,800 seat symphony hall, and parking to support these uses. Waterway integration was achieved by expanding the estuary to provide boat docks, and creating a landing for a ferry to Long Boat Key. Read More


In this plan, the Van Wezel would be removed in favor of a larger multi-purpose performance hall, and a symphony hall would be added. This master plan paid homage to the Van Wezel's iconic shape and the site's waterfront location by using a shell metaphor to inform the circulation patterns, topography, and building forms for the entire 42-acre plot. This plan envisions adding an aquarium in Centennial Park. Read More


This team based its master plan on the fact that the beauty of the arts and nature are experienced via the senses. Under this scenario, the Van Wezel's iconic skin is retained as part of an outdoor amphitheater. New performing arts and symphony halls would be added. This plan centers on an open air pedestrian plaza, and included a new bridge connecting the Bayfront to City Island on Long Boat Key. Read More

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