Championing the Power of Design

Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. Photo: Ketterman Photography.

Cities in both the US and abroad, including Sydney, New York, Paris, and San Francisco, do a great job of embracing design to enhance commerce, create delightful experiences, and cater to every aspect of human life. In Jacksonville, however, design appears to be underutilized and, in many cases, overlooked altogether. 

With the growing desire to make Jacksonville a truly vital, desirable and livable city, coupled with the appreciation of the natural beauty that Northeast Florida has to offer, civic and business leaders are beginning to champion the power of design. 

In order to achieve the goal of making this an enticing city, Jacksonville is learning from cities that have successfully exploited design to become some of the most visited and celebrated destinations on the planet. 

There can be no doubt that San Francisco, one of the world’s top travel destinations, understands and appreciates the power of design. With its well articulated, visually engaging and delightful retail spaces, iconic structures including the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid, fully restored cable cars, world class museums, and beautifully maintained parks, the evidence is profound. 

The same can be said for other world class cities including New York (Guggenheim Museum, Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Adler Planetarium, Whitney Museum), Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Centre Pompidou), Chicago (Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, Millennium Park, Water Tower), and Sydney (Harbour Bridge, Opera House).

Bottom row: North Florida Student Union
Photo: Rink Design

Of course, no discussion of iconic landmarks is complete without mention of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Designed by Frank Gehry, opened in 1997, and considered the most important building of its time, this remarkable structure of titanium, glass and limestone has had a transformative effect on the Spanish city of Bilbao. In its first three years, visitor spending generated enough in taxes to more than cover the cost of construction. While the Sydney Opera House (1973) and Centre Georges Pompidou (1977) produced similar outcomes, the achievements in Bilbao have become the premier example of what vision, imagination, leadership and design can achieve.

PGA Tour Headquarters
Photo: Foster+Partners

According to Jacksonville Councilwoman Lori Boyer,  “We have a vision for Jacksonville that is broad and inclusive, especially the incredible diversity of experiences and opportunities that our water resources represent. Starting at the beaches, past Fort George Island, into the tributaries, along the active shipyards, and winding into town, there are countless attributes we can leverage.”

Michael Corrigan, President & CEO of Visit Jacksonville, offers a similar perspective: “Jacksonville represents an incredible catalog of memorable places and enjoyable experiences,” he says. “While not yet iconic, the St. John’s River represents untapped opportunities. In part, we are seeking ways to develop eco-friendly tourism that   embraces all of the natural delights that Northeast Florida has to offer.”

Even in commercial environments, business leaders are turning to design to better connect with customers and create a competitive advantage. According to a recent  report in Forbes Magazine, the idea that design can be a crucial differentiator has taken root. For companies such as Apple, Tesla and Nike, creative innovation and design excellence have had a phenomenal impact.

With all of these dynamics, Jacksonville has an opportunity to become one of the greatest mid-sized cities in the

Black Sheep Restaurant. Photo: Antony Rieck

country. It already has several iconic structures – most notably the Dames Point Bridge, also known as the Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Bridge. Designed by HNTB Corporation and RS&H Inc., this cable-stayed bridge is a sleek, elegant, and graceful point of entry and an iconic symbol of individuality.

Another recognizable structure is the Main Street Bridge. Known colloquially as the “blue bridge,” this vertical lift bridge has long been an effective connector between the neighborhoods of San Marco and Southbank and the city center. 

Of course, Jacksonville’s acceptance of design has been a time-consuming process. Starting in 1901 when the city was ravaged by fire, with noteworthy contributions from Henry Klutho (one of the leading architects of his day) thereafter, rebuilding was a dynamic and spirited affair. Not surprisingly, Jacksonville became one of the most fashionable mid-sized cities in the country. 

According to Wayne Wood, a leading advocate for historic preservation, “Since Klutho’s time, other than a brief spark in the ’60s, there has been little interest in design, and there has been no clearly articulated vision to create a more beautiful city. Jacksonville has become a place where developers rule. Most new buildings are based solely on cost, rather than on their aesthetic contribution to the community. With each new mediocre building that is constructed, we are squandering another opportunity to enhance our city.”

While few and far between, there are a growing number of investments being made in design that are contributing significantly to the vitality of Jacksonville. 

Looking back to 2003, the historic Western Union building on Hemming Plaza was recommissioned, renovated and opened to the public as the new home for Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). While the art deco facade was preserved, the interior was transformed to include a stunning atrium, spacious galleries, and presentation theater. 

Read MoreBy Jeffrey Spear

Author: Arbus

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