W Architecture & Landscape Architecture transform a former parking area into a waterfront family park that encourages a diverse range of active and passive experiences and culminates with artist Jane Echelon’s ‘Bending Arc’ floating over the central lawn

St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Covering 5,300 feet (1,615 meters) of the Tampa Bay waterfront in Florida, The Pier Approach is a monumental, landmark civic park with three interlinked pedestrian experiences designed by Barbara Wilks and David Ostrich from W Architecture & Landscape Architecture LLC with Wannemacher Jensen Architects and a sculpture by Jane Echelon for the city of St. Petersburg. 

The Pier Approach is a 20-acre area space between the downtown and the pier, which has become the new heart of the city. 

For its inspired and ecological design, Pier Approach has recently been awarded a 2022 International Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

Originally a vehicular-oriented parking area, the goal was to create a pedestrian-oriented place, with integrated vehicular and bicycle traffic, which engages people in renewed civic life. 

The implemented plan reduces roadway and parking, while increasing attractive pedestrian places including gardens, playgrounds, overlooks, restaurants, marketplaces, and ecological landscapes to bring together diverse communities.

Three interlinked pedestrian experiences encourage people to enjoy the area on foot–an urban pedestrian spine that reaches from the downtown to the pier, a family-oriented park, and the waterfront edges. 

Stormwater management provides native wetland areas that attract wildlife. 

The oval-shaped landscape and pathways are inspired by the unique karst/sinkhole landscape local to the Tampa Bay region. 

The native live oaks that were in the parking areas remain on the site and are supplemented with the addition of trees to provide a shady native pine/oak woodland with native understory.

The pedestrian spine reaches from the city to the Pierhead. 

At the start of the urban pedestrian spine, the welcome plaza provides both bike share and tram service for the pier district. 

A flexible market pavilion extends along the central axis, drawing foot traffic in with local food and products, as well as shade. 

The canopy roof is made of solar panels. 

Palms line this iconic entryway, flanked by existing Podocarpus trees from the old drive.

A diverse range of active and passive experiences are encouraged in this new family park: picnics at the waterfront, strolls in the native gardens, a unique play area for all ages, and a pond for local stormwater management, habitat enhancement with a viewing deck. 

The centerpiece is a sculpture by Janet Echelman hanging over the central lawn, called “Bending Arc.” 

It has become a meeting place for a diverse ‘St Pete’ population and the heart of the park. 

It is also a reference to the Supreme Court decision, which created integrated beaches in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.

An inviting waterfront edge connects people to the water. 

A new overlook with seat steps, a view edge with an informal amphitheater, a walk along a new transient marina, and a monument to the first commercial airline, are threaded together by a northern and a southern promenade, lined with bioswales. 

The loops take you from the southern edge to the center of the park and out again to the far northern edge, creating a nice contrast to the pier spine.

Project: The Pier Approach
Landscape Architects: W Architecture & Landscape Architecture LLC.
Collaborating Architects: Wannemacher Jensen Architects
Lead Designers: Barbara Wilks and David Ostrich
General Contractor: Skanska USA
Client: City of St Petersburg
Photographers: Maria Flanagan and Brian Adams