We do not create the work. I believe we, in fact, are discoverers.– Glenn Murcutt

As part of their graduate architecture academic work, Sarasota Citylab students were challenged to re-imagine the bayfront civic space as a vibrant cultural center, by creating master plans for the 42-acre site, and then designing a concert hall.

Drawing upon the vision of the citizen-led Bayfront 20:20 initiative, students investigated the city's history, cultural, and ecological context, and developed architectural and circulation options to activate the space as a community destination.

The iterative process included research; exercises to cultivate design inspiration; the preparation of sketches, drawings, and models depicting cultural center architectural design options; expert critiques, and the incorporation of reviewer feedback.


Architecture is bound to situation, and I feel like the site is a metaphysical link, a poetic link, to what a building can be.– Steven Holl

Bayfront Cultural District program considerations:

  • Add a 2,600 seat performing arts and 1,600–1,800 seat concert halls.
  • Add parking sufficient to support simultaneous use by 3,500 patrons.
  • Add facilities to activate site during the day and support multiple civic and recreational uses.
  • Retain the historic structures in the Bayfront Historic District.
  • Improve connection to surrounding areas and waterfront via road and pedestrian path configuration, bridges, water taxis or boat tie-ups.
  • 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) minimum of 100' apart.


We don’t have preconceived ideas; we work, we analyze, we read, we step into projects knowing that we're not the first ones there – Elizabeth Diller


Students reviewed a technical report from the City of Sarasota on zoning, leases, view corridors, flood zones, and other aspects of the site.

Reinforcing the principle that the best way to understand a space is to experience it, students also visited the site on several occasions, measuring elevations, taking photographs, and noting sun and wind patterns.

Drawing on their site research, the class worked together to create a 1"=50' scale wood model of the bayfront cultural center site and surrounding areas.

site plan model


Gary W. Siebein, FAIA, FASA, emeritus professor of architecture and acoustics at the University of Florida, gave a presentation on acoustical design, noting how architecture influences the movement of sound through space.

Students then researched, documented, and analyzed world class symphony halls to identify important elements of architectural form, materiality, acoustic attributes and the relationship of those elements to their respective musical periods.

Architect: FRANK GEHRY · Built: 2003 DOWNLOAD

Architect: JEAN NOUVEL · Built: 2000 DOWNLOAD

Architect: I.M. PEI · Built: 1989 DOWNLOAD

Architect: HANS SCHAROUN · Built: 1963 DOWNLOAD

Architect: MAX ABROMOVITZ · Built: 1962 DOWNLOAD


Students toured the Van Wezel and Tampa's Straz Center. For immersion into the symphonic experience, they also attended a performance of the Sarasota Symphony Orchestra.


Architecture is not based on concrete and steel and elements of the soil. It's based on wonder. – Daniel Libeskind


Working in two-person teams, students were asked to develop a "big idea" to serve as inspiration for their plans for the Bayfront cultural center.

cultural transparency site plan

Cultural Transparency

The retain team adopted a 'look-through" concept keying off the stunning views and a desire to connect art, city, and setting.

sense-ation site plan


The team tasked with repurposing the Van Wezel was inspired by Central Park to develop a site plan engaging all of the senses.

shell site plan


While replacing the Van Wezel, this team paid homage to that iconic structure by adopting a conch shell form to organize the site.


Based on a poem of their choice, students were asked to construct a palimpsest (visual collage) conveying ideas they wanted to explore in their concert hall designs.


It’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better. – Jonathan Ive


For both the site plan and concert hall designs, students used an iterative approach:

Research on the context and program

Analysis of precedents

Search for inspiration

Creation of sketches, drawings, & models

Expert feedback and refinement