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St. Petersburg Architect Designs In Context

A swimmer's arm slicing through water.

Birds in flight.

The interplay of shadow and light.

All images you are more likely to associate with poetry than with architecture.

But the motion of a swimmer's arm inspired the design of a 57-ton concrete canopy slicing through the sky and creating a dramatic entry to North Shore Pool in St. Petersburg.

Birds skimming across a lake prompted the wing-like roof lines over two pavilions at White Sands Beach in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa.

And light -- designed to change appearance several times throughout the day -- inspires awe in the lobby of Roberts Recreation Center in St. Petersburg.

These projects and others have brought recognition to Jason Jensen, a 32-year-old St. Petersburg artist and architect who aims to create spaces that offer unique experiences to those using or visiting them.

"I want people to notice architecture," Jensen says. "I want people to have the opportunity to see something -- to be aware of something that they weren't aware of, before they walked in the doors.

"If people walk into a building and look up and around, instead of just walking straight to their destination, then I think you've done something," Jensen says.

Architectural designs should do more than provide adequate square footage, he says. The design should respond to the intended use of the space; the building should relate to its site; and, the architect should consider the project within its regional context.

Jensen's firm, Wannemacher Jensen Architects, performs much work that is municipal in nature.

That doesn't mean that it has to be boring.

"We've done 30 community recreation centers, but every project is different," Jensen says.   

Accomplishing Excellence

The size of a job doesn't affect Jensen's commitment to quality, says Raul Quintana, city architect for
St. Petersburg.  Whether it is a small, simple addition, or a big, complicated project, Jensen takes a thoughtful approach, Quintana says.

While being mindful of budget, Jensen seeks to add value through the work he does, often suggesting approaches that clients hadn't considered, Quintana says.

Accomplishing excellence isn't a matter of working for the right firm or securing the ideal client, Jensen says. It stems from taking ownership of one's work and not making excuses.

"Great architecture can happen anywhere, not just in Los Angeles or New York City," says Jensen, a third-generation resident of St. Petersburg, who decided to work in his hometown because he sees enormous potential.

Jensen enjoys experimenting.

He gets a thrill out of manipulating the effects of light, testing different design approaches and using materials in new ways. He uses temporary installations and exhibits to test out ideas.

One temporary installation, at Williams Park during First Night in St. Petersburg, invited people to see the effects of movement and color.

Jensen aimed colored lights from different angles across a dance zone at fabric walls. As people danced, or posed, their shadows blocked some colors and revealed others, creating constantly new effects.

"It was the only time I've seen 100 people dancing at Williams Park," says Jensen, adding that besides being fun, the installation offered insight about using light as a space-making material.

Changing Nature Of Light

Trying things on a small scale allows Jensen to see what works and to fix what doesn't, he says. Once he learns the principles, he can apply them in different places.

 "The important thing for us is that we take the experimentation and we do that in formats that allow for failure, without failing the client," Jensen says.

A project his company did at The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg offers an example of the effects lighting can have,  Jensen says.

"It used to have just a white light on it," Jensen says. Now, the building -- shaped like an upside down pyramid --  has 94 LED computer-controlled flood lights that can change colors and speed, and can be programmed to interact with concerts and special events.

Just like the programmable lights at The Pier, the changing nature of light at Roberts Recreation Center enlivens the building, Jensen says. "So, you create an architecture that's not static."

Jensen's vision and accomplishments have attracted the attention of Tampa Bay's architectural community.

His firm received the 2009 Dean Rowe Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Tampa Bay chapter of the American Institute of Arhitects (AIA) for his design of the Roberts Recreation Center in St. Petersburg. It is the highest annual honor bestowed by the AIA Tampa Bay chapter.

The chapter also chose Jensen's firm as its Firm of the Year in 2008, and a panel of accomplished architects selected Jensen as the recipient of the chapter's Eduardo Garcia Award, a distinction given to one young architect each year.

Encouraging Collaboration

Jensen began working at his firm as a summer intern in 2000 and became partner of the firm, with Lisa Wannemacher, in 2007.

 "I saw the potential. I saw the passion. I experienced the respect that he has for the field of architecture, and for me, and for what I was trying to do," Wannemacher says.

Jensen credits much of his professional growth to Wannemacher's willingness to give him big responsibilities while being there to provide guidance and support.

The partners prize collaboration, a value that's embedded in their firm's culture.

"We have a very open office,'' Jensen says, noting no walls separate staff members.'' It's by design that we keep communication and a lot of creativity flowing."

B.C. Manion is a freelance writer working out of her 1932 bungalow in Tampa's South Seminole Heights neighborhood. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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