Constructed in 1975 as Sarasota County’s central library, the project was designed by Walter Netsch of Skidmore Owings and Merrill. The design was based on Netsch’s “Field Theory” prevalent in his work at the time. The resultant geometry is derived from a thirty foot structural grid system with an overlaid forty five degree grid by which the plan is generated. The resultant geometry creates a series of triangulated spaces, which in turn, are extruded vertically into a wedge shaped faceted perimeter. Over time, the life of the building as a library was limited as a result of expanded services and increased population. The building had become outdated and difficult to add onto as a result to its unique design. A new central library was constructed in the central business district of the city, and the old library was left empty.
A not for profit children’s science organization focusing on natural and physical sciences had been in existence for some time within the community. Focusing on interactive exhibits, the organization was looking to put down permanent roots, and the City of Sarasota agreed to provide the newly named Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone (G.Wiz) with the 33,000 square foot former library.
The challenge realized by both the architect and the client was how to reinforce the existing aesthetic of the SOM design, while introducing a new life for the building. In considering the design approach for the project, it was important to recognize the significance—and the challenges—of the original building's parti. Field Theory had created a library of striking geometries, now the opportunity would be to design a new facility into a building with a very prestigious pedigree.
The solution was to expand the geometries of the original parti and to reinforce the discovery aspect of the new science facility through the introduction of a new triangulated crystalline structure that reinforces the existing geometries while creating a transition space between exhibit areas—a place for gathering and a bold vertical glass facet that provides a fresh identity for an important architectural icon.
Photography by Gene Pollux / Pollux Photography