Whenever Jerel McCants talks about architecture, he beams. Ask him about good use of space, lighting and form, and he'll show you a photo he took of a beautiful Japanese church designed by his favorite architect, Tadao Ando.
A fascinating example of Tampa architecture? Downtown's Sykes building, locally nicknamed "The Beer Can."
Even when he pulls out a 5-inch-thick binder of Trump Tower Tampa plans, a project that unexpectedly dissolved, McCants is philosophical -- he talks about how much he learned from the experience.
A good attitude may account for some of McCants' success. When he moved to the Tampa area to attend graduate school at the University of South Florida, he and two fellow USF students set a goal: start their own architecture -- within 10 years. They got what they wished for a year early, when they founded the architecture and interior design firm ob_zurv group in 2006.
While other cities may boast greater architectural distinction, Tampa offers urban designers like Jerel McCants
a tremendous opportunity to make a long-term impact on the built environment. "Tampa's like a new frontier," he says. "It's a great place for people to share their ideas and get noticed."
Jerel's Day In Tampa:
Jerel zips through layouts with AutoCAD
at his West Tampa bungalow, one of several dozen new homes constructed as part of the city's neighborhood revitalization program. He puts the finishing touches on a client's home addition drawing, grabs a banana and heads out the door.
Stops for a breakfast meeting at a South Tampa Starbucks, the unofficial "office" for ob_zurv group. ob_zurv creates residential and commercial designs that reduce energy consumption and support greener living through beautiful, functional and responsible uses of space. After breakfast, Jerel heads over the Gandy Bridge to St. Petersburg.
Jerel checks on the progress of an upstairs bedroom addition and second-story deck. Climbing the stairs, he snaps photos and tours the space with established local contractor Hal Hammer, Jr. of Riviera Bay Builders. Hammer has collaborated with Jerel for years and now uses the architect exclusively for his drawings. "I wouldn't use anybody else," he says. The two visit a second site to inspect the progress of another 1,000-square-foot addition. Soon, Jerel is scrambling up a ladder to check out the roof and take more photos.
Meets with James Evans, a former NFL player and founder of Tampa Bay Academy of Hope, a nonprofit offering multilevel education, mentoring and support to inner-city youth. The two became fast friends upon meeting last year, and now Evans regularly mentors the young architect.
"Jerel's genuine, humble and cares about people, and that inspires me," Evans says. Today, Jerel receives specific, actionable marketing instructions from the nonprofit founder: Follow through on referral leads, send thank-you notes following a meeting, invest in company stationery. As a pro bono project, Jerel designed the Academy's future 6,000-square-foot center; next he'll design Evans' future home.
The two hop in Evans' truck for a drive to inspect his not-yet-cleared home site. There, Jerel trudges through knee-high brush to photograph and inspect the land and re-emerges with prickly spurs coating his dress pants and socks.
Continues the conversation with Evans over Mexican food and Jarritos at the Taco Bus, a popular local favorite in Seminole Heights.
The two head to J.P. Morgan Chase to formally accept a $30,000 donation for the Academy's programs and construction of the new facility. Evans introduces Jerel to the executives as the lead architect and visionary for the center's design.
After a quick rest and catching up on email, Jerel heads to an Ybor City espresso and wine bar for an open-mic discussion about sustainability and local efforts to bring both the World Cup and high-speed rail to the area. Given his firm's interest in smarter, more responsible use of natural resources, Jerel listens intently while business owners and community leaders take turns at the mike.
Travels to a Palma Ceia neighborhood garden shop for "Green Drinks," a networking event for professionals and business owners committed to greener living. Jerel meets and mixes with other architects and contractors, including local LEED-certified contractor Ryan Barry.
Returns home to check emails and fix his typically late dinner. On the menu tonight: spaghetti and ground turkey. He winds down with The Colbert Report and heads to bed. There will be plenty of drawings and networking to do tomorrow.
83 Degrees and freelance writer Chris Kuhn produced this article for the spring issue of Next American City, a national magazine that hits newstands this week. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.