Architects’ ‘shipshape’ design sure to make an impact

27 Nov 2017 9:44 AM | AIA Gulfcoast (Administrator)

Chris Wille: Architects’ ‘shipshape’ design sure to make an impact

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By Chris Wille
Real Estate Editor

Posted Nov 23, 2017 at 2:01 AM

The eye-catching structure under construction on a small, triangular lot on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota looks like a large wooden ship about to sail right into oncoming eastbound traffic. No doubt this will attract stares. And a bit of awe.

This is the solution that architects Javier and Javi Suarez came up with to placing the four-story Sabal Palm Plaza building on such a small piece of land while capitalizing on its commercial prospects. “We let the shape of the site determine the shape of the building,” Javi Suarez said during a tour of the new headquarters for both Sabal Palm Bank and Gilbane Building Co., the project’s contractor. The penthouse fourth floor, with the best views of downtown, is still available for lease. Every upper floor features an open terrace on the east side facing north, a nice complement to the interior break room.

Javi Suarez, one of the two principals in Apex-Studio Suarez with his father, cites others for the “ship” description, not taking ownership of that expression. The safe bet is everyone else will immediately see a vessel — not just for the shape but for other building qualities, too. Javier is the principal in charge of the design.

“Also, because of the curvature of Ringling, (the building) turns to face the road,” Suarez said. “So we wanted to make this beacon a landmark as you approach it heading east.

“That was the genesis of the shape.”

The bow of the Sabal Palm Plaza captures attention as much for the materials as the design. The wooden appearance comes from a resin composite with the warmth, quality and texture of wood, Suarez says. “It’s not a true wood veneer but it has a wood veneer look.”

The wood look does not blanket the entire exterior, as stucco walls and abundant glass complete the bulk of the building.

The curvature of the roof adds another element to the ship design — by placing thick, bent steel beams on the roof line as the sides gradually rise until reaching the apex at the top of the bow. “When you drive up Ringling heading east,” Suarez says, “what it does is emphasizes the perspective so it looks like the building is moving toward you rather than being static and flat.

“That little bit of turn on it helps emphasize that movement.”

A row of windows on an upper floor of the south side of the building could be interpreted as the ship’s bridge, with portholes appearing below, though Suarez did not establish that on our site tour.

The project’s developer, Dr. Mark Kaufman, a retired orthopedic surgeon, is pleased with the outcome. “I and everyone I meet loves the design. It will be a Sarasota icon. Already is.”

A hands-off developer

Suarez is particularly grateful to Kaufman for his hands-off approach. “It was Javi’s design and he was given full leeway,” Kaufman said. “It was more expensive to construct, but for the future well worth it.”

This is not the Suarezs’ first endeavor with Kaufman and it’s unlikely to be their last.

“We have known Dr. Kaufman for many years and have worked with him in the development of several projects, including this one,” Javier Suarez said. “Given that background, we are really excited to see this building become a reality.

“Our excitement is not only because of our long-term involvement but because we truly believe this building will become an icon in the city’s skyline.”

Triangular buildings have been around for more than a century, the most famous being the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. That 22-story, steel-framed, brick landmark, completed in 1902, became a ground-breaking skyscraper soon copied elsewhere. About two dozen other structures around the nation carry the Flatiron Building moniker because they all resemble a cast-iron clothes iron.

‘Warm contemporary’

The Suarez firm designed several other striking structures in the area, including the Rosemary District headquarters of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, with influences from the mid-century Sarasota School of architecture; and the Capstan Center, designed to define a new gateway to the historic Towles Court creative arts neighborhood and incorporate “the material language of the local bungalows on to the building itself,” Javi Suarez said. Another Suarez design is the modernistic North Port High School.

“I would call the style of the (Sabal Palm Plaza) building contemporary and it is what we are most noted for,” Javi Suarez said. “Sometimes it has also been classified as ‘warm contemporary.’

“All of our projects, including the Planned Parenthood building, have been influenced by regional approaches to the mid-modern movement,” he wrote in an email. “The Sarasota School of Architecture is one of them. Another influence for us has been the regional approach taken in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Cuba specifically), which integrate the use of natural materials such as wood and exposed concrete with the clean lines of the movement.”

The company’s resume spans most of the architecture landscape, including cultural, institutional, educational, commercial, religious and residential projects.

Inside, Sabal Palm Bank will occupy the first two floors, with executive offices above the lobby, teller stations and reception area. Interestingly, the bank will sport a cavern-like drive-through since there’s no extra space on the triangle for a traditional structure. Vehicles will drive through a two-lane S-shaped tunnel to reach tellers, an ATM and night depository inside and then exit onto Ringling Boulevard. Parking will be across the narrow Golf Street, with a garage possible in the future. The project had been slated to start of construction in 2008 but was stalled through the Great Recession.

Dare we say this building could be a flagship site for a business headquarters?

Chris Wille is the Herald-Tribune’s real estate editor. He can be reached at and 361-4805.

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