Architecture in Our City by the River: 25 Years in the Past, the Present, and the Promise of the Future

By Eva Dasher

Gensler    FIS Headquarters   Jacksonville, Florida

To celebrate our 25th annual Art & Architecture issue, we asked some of Jacksonville’s most prominent architects and professionals involved in downtown development about their thoughts regarding our city’s architecture in the past 25 years, the present, and what we can expect in the next 25 years. Their responses ran from hopeful and energized to discouraged and frustrated.  However, even though not everyone was feeling completely optimistic about the future, it was clear that those who have been involved in Jacksonville’s architectural heritage and continue to plan for its future have an enduring love for their city by the river.

Looking a Quarter of a Century (and More) Into the Past

When asked about some of the greatest architectural contributions to Jacksonville in the past 25 years, Dave Engdahl, who came to Jacksonville in 1973 to work with nationally renowned architect William Morgan, points out that the city’s architectural history predating the last decade of the 20th century has a direct bearing on our more recent past.  “Morgan and regionally known architects Taylor Hardwick and Robert Broward were talented, influential leaders of Jacksonville’s architectural design community for decades. Through their design talent, these three left an indelible mark on Jacksonville architecture and spawned many excellent new architectural firms,” says Engdahl. 

Tom Duke, a native of Jacksonville and principal-in-charge of Thomas Duke Architect, agrees that Morgan was influential. “He was passionate about good design and always looked at projects from a greater perspective. Whether it was a house at the beach, a municipal building downtown, or a United States embassy building overseas, he not only looked at the design of the structure itself, but how it related to the site and the context of its surrounding. His greatest project was always the one he was currently working on.”  And a number of architects cited Hardwick’s Haydon Burns Library as an important contribution to the city, not only when it opened in 1965, but also when it was renovated in 2015.   

Dasher Hurst Architects
Laura Street Trio
Downtown Jacksonville, Florida

In fact, recent renovations of architecturally significant buildings are mentioned by most of these questioned. “I think the transformation of the Haydon Burns Library into the Jessie Ball duPont Center was an example to the city on how these historic structures could be adapted for modern usage while acknowledging our past with adaptive reuse. The building has become a gathering place, not just for nonprofits, but for other groups within the city, and is not just an example of architectural work, but also of the funding development for these types of projects,” says Brooke Robbins, who has practiced architecture in Jacksonville for over 18 years and started her own firm in 2016, Robbins Design Studio.  Another recent renovation lauded by many is the Barnett Bank Building. Dasher Hurst Architects’ Tom Hurst, who teamed with KBJ Architects for the renovation of Barnett, says, “I think the Barnett Building and other similar mixed-use developments have the potential to act as catalysts to drive new development that will finally make downtown the destination for living, working, and entertainment that we’ve all strived to achieve. 

Other projects mentioned more than once as great architectural contributions of the past 25 years include the University of North Florida (UNF) Student Union, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the Black Sheep Building.  “Black Sheep Restaurant is a wonderful example of a modern design that fits within an historic district. The clean lines and restrained use of materials creates an elegant and timeless beauty. Equally impressive is the decision by the developer to go with a mix of uses,” says Brandon Pourch of RS&H. Pourch says he moved to Jacksonville from Chicago in 2006 because it has opportunities for architects that didn’t exist in the windy city. 

Cronk Duch Architecture and CD+urban
The Hub   Jacksonville, Florida

David Laffitte, an architect and lighting designer who had a role in designing a number of Jacksonville buildings and lighting four of our downtown bridges (but is now “mostly retired”), believes that “Our airport, JIA, is exemplary. It’s an important entrance to our city.” Both Steve Lovett of Ervin Lovett Miller (ELM) and Haskell’s Chris Allen believe that the Baseball Grounds and Veterans Memorial Arena are praiseworthy projects. “There have been many successful improvements in Jacksonville’s built environment in the past two decades, such as [the] replacement of the former Coliseum and Wolfson Park with modern facilities in the new Veterans Memorial Arena and Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville,” explains Lovett.

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Author: Arbus

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