Tom Leader Studio

by | 30. Jul 2012

Feature | Public/ leisure | Sustainable

Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects


The St. Petersburg Pier, known as “The Lens”, was recently selected as the winner of the international competition.

“The Lens” is a new icon for the City of St. Petersburg, reframing the relationship between the City and the Bay. Visible from afar, it is a crown on the skyline and a marker within the daily life of St. Petersburg.

Embracing the water at its center, it is a loupe focused on the water, an observation point for the sky overhead, the water below, and the city skyline beyond.  As its canopy rises over the Bay, “The Lens” incorporates bicycle and walking paths arcing upwards before returning to the water’s edge. Its broad form shelters the main promenade from the hot sun and the rain, welcoming visitors as they arrive on foot, on bicycle, or via the Pier Tram.

Two bridges link the Lens to the upland: one skims along the water’s surface creating a direct dialogue with the surrounding Bay; the other raises high overhead taking in sweeping vistas of the Pier and City. These twin bridges create a promenade to and from the Lens which is no longer unidirectional, but is instead a circuit, providing a diversity of experience as visitors travel out and return.

The lower bridge is a wider, wood‐clad deck accommodating pedestrians, runners, bicyclists, the Pier Tram, and service and emergency vehicles. The upper bridge’s airy promenade is for pedestrians, and perhaps pelicans, with views in all directions, to the bridge below, and the water beneath.


Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects



Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects

At the focal point within the Lens are the remains of the old pier. Recognizing the significant role the current Pier has played in the City’s history, and the not insignificant cost to remove it, the design team did not propose to demolish it. Instead the design leaves the caissons that support the current pier in place beneath the water’s surface, creating an armature for an unprecedented underwater garden. This reef will host a publicly visible, rich marine habitat that will support regeneration and growth. Oysters and sea grass create the “floor” of Tampa Bay’s food web structure – they create the conditions for mollusks, fish, turtles, manatees to thrive.

Within the Lens’ interior, wave action is dampened through a series of below‐water panels hung beneath the promenade at its perimeter. This action creates an unexpectedly tranquil water surface and a welcoming aquatic landscape within. A second circuit within includes a harbor and central dock. Devoted to kayaks and paddle boats, with transient slips ringing the periphery, this new harbor also includes a café terrace with views to the Reef; kayak, paddle boat and stand‐up paddle board rentals; and a bait shop with fishing off the eastern side of the inner ring. By carefully choreographing this range of experiences these multiple uses are able to coexist side by side.


Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects



Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects



Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects



Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects

Beneath the sheltering form of the Lens’ canopy, extending outward into the Bay, is a rocky outcrop where visitors can pause and take in the experience and beauty of the water and horizon beyond. The forest of columns that support the canopy subtly twist, their profile appearing to dissolve momentarily at mid‐span. Elevator and stair towers connect the lower and upper levels in this area; a service and emergency vehicle turnaround is also incorporated. Balconies extend out from the canopy above, creating elevated places to sit and take in the view.


Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects

Opposite the Lens that extends out over the water is a complementary loop that encircles the upland as it meets downtown. The experience of the Pier today is isolated from the upland and downtown. This Civic Loop, with the great lawn of the Civic Green at its center, directly links the experience of the water with the life of the downtown St. Petersburg. Pedestrian and bicycle pathways extending across this landscape loop connecting a diverse range of recreational experiences both over land or over water, knitting the site into a singular whole.


Image courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects

The new marina, beaches, and lagoons that extend across the upland, descend to the water’s edge, float over it, and arc above it, defining extraordinary experiences and environments for recreation and restoration. The new Pier also reshapes the upland’s southern edge by lifting the primary pedestrian promenade to create a continuous experience of the water that begins at Bayshore Drive. Linking City and Pier alike, the project is no longer two parts, upland and over water, but instead a united whole.

The new Pier will be a central element connecting downtown St. Petersburg and its waterfront including Vinoy Park, Demen’s Landing, and Straub Park. A series of east‐west connections link the Pier along Central Avenue and 2nd Avenue North to the heart of downtown and Mirror Lake. A new promenade and sculpture walk will extend the existing cultural and commercial axis to the north and south along Beach Drive, supporting continued development along the water and linking the new Pier, the City and its waterfront.


Model photo courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects view of the Loop.


Model photo courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects view towards downtown.



Drawing courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects Site Plan


Drawing courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects Lens Plans


Drawing courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects Lens Section


Drawing courtesy Michael Maltzan Architects Lens Elevation

The canopy’s surface also plays an active role for sustainability. Built of pre‐cast white concrete panels, the canopy incorporates an array of micro turbines embedded in its surface, their patterned form taking advantage of prevailing winds and the canopy’s form. Solar panels are arrayed across the northwest edge of the bowl, their position optimized in relationship to the sun’s path. The canopy also captures and routes rainwater into collection cisterns embedded in the pedestrian pathway below.


CITY St. Petersburg Pier, Florida