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Worthy Pier
Michael Maltzan takes St. Petersburg competition.
Michael Maltzan's monumental pier proposal rises on the coast of St. Petersburg.
Courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture

As The Architect’s Newspaper first reported last week, Michael Maltzan Architecture has won an international competition to redesign St. Petersburg, Florida’s iconic pier. The firm beat out other finalists West 8 and BIG with “The Lens,” a project composed of a group of interconnected bridges and pathways arranged along a figure eight plan.

The project will frame the city through its sweeping, looped structure, forge a connection between downtown St. Petersburg and its waterfront, and create several new recreational opportunities, including the chance for visitors to get much closer to the water than they had in the past.

In 2010 the city voted to demolish its current pier, a 1970’s inverted pyramid structure containing a “festival market” that St. Petersburg’s web site refers to as “the most visible landmark in the history of the city.” But the market had fallen on hard financial times and the structure itself—battered by the elements over decades—was in dire straits, with repairs deemed by engineers to be virtually impossible. The city was ready to redefine both the pier itself and the city at large.

Left to right: Maltzen's Lens dramatically rises from the water; the new structure helps to calm waters within its boundaries; the figure-eight pier.

“We saw this as an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing,” said Raul Quintana, city architect for the City of St. Petersburg. “It’s something that cities the size of St. Petersburg don’t normally do. It’s very risky and forward thinking.”

A jury of three design experts (including San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz) and two local officials selected Maltzan’s concept after studying the entries for more than a month. The competition began in June with 30 registered teams and was narrowed down to three at the end of last year.

“Michael Maltzan just nailed it,” said Quintana. “His take really redefined what a pier is in the 21st Century.” Indeed The Lens’ shape and siting help rethink a typology that has long become outdated.

Walkways cross leading to and from the Lens.


With the old pier, said Maltzan, “you walk out in a straight line, you get to the end of the pier, and you turn around to come back. You’re just retracing your steps.” The figure eight plan creates a “more complex and complete experience,” a circuit that introduces visitors to new elements throughout. The project’s shape will also allow for water-based activities in the interior of the loop, like kayaking and boating; a new element in an area where waters are generally very rough.

The project will also include a new tidal reef, a civic green, raised walking paths, an amphitheater, a water park and other leisure activities.

“It’s not a traditional architecture project. It’s not a tradition landscape project. It’s really a hybrid,” said Maltzan, echoing what has been said about others in a new generation of urban-scaled projects, like New York’s High Line.

An aerial view of The Lens projecting from the St. Petersburg waterfront.


West 8′s proposed plan, called “The People’s Pier,” would have been highlighted by a large circular pavilion called “The Eye,” sitting on a new shoal in the bay. It would also have included new preserved habitats, a public marina, and a new plan for ecological waterfront development. BIG’s scheme would have been made up of three parts: a park, a walkway, and “the wave,” a large spiral-shaped structure containing several programs. According to BIG, the structure would have been created by the pier folding in on itself. Closer to shore the plan would have contained a large swimming beach and a small forest.

Both of the other finalists, said Quintana, would have been inspiring, but with their singular iconic moves they were “more about the destination.” Maltzan’s scheme, by contrast, “is more about the journey.”

The plan calls for new parks hugging the city's waterfront.

The first phase of the project is budgeted at about $50 million. St. Petersburg City Council is expected to vote on the project at its February 2 meeting (no means a done deal in this conservative city, said Quintana). If approved, the project will be supported with funds raised from a county-approved tax increment financing plan. The first phase could be completed within three years.

The project is among several new works helping revamp the city. Others include a new Salvador Dali Museum, a Dale Chihuly Museum, an expansion of the fine arts museum, a vital public art program, and the development of a new arts district.

“It really fits what St. Petersburg is becoming. Not what St. Petersburg used to be,” said Quintana.

Sam Lubell


Clockwise from top left: Axonometric views of the proposed amphitheater-parking garage; the Spa Beach Flotilla including freshwater pools and habitat islands; a pedestrian bascule bridge; the intertidal pathway along a newly formed reef; an overall site plan.