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No Rock Star-chitect

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  • | 8:05 a.m. August 27, 2010
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Yann Weymouth isn't the type of architect who is compelled to put his signature on every building he designs. If the finished product functions as originally intended, he says, that matters far more than how spectacular it looks.

A case in point is the new Salvador Dali Museum along St. Petersburg's bayfront, which combines a geodesic glass form with a rough concrete box. Weymouth and Will Hollingsworth designed the $36 million structure on behalf of their firm, Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum Inc., and are already getting accolades for their work.

He's used to that sort of thing, having worked on numerous high-profile projects over the last 40 years, including expansions of the Louvre Museum in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. His most recent local designs include the expansion and renovation of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

However, Weymouth emphasizes that recognition is not what motivates his work. “It's not my main purpose, but I'm pleased that people notice,” he says.

Besides, he doesn't need to add much more fame to his surname. His sister, Tina Weymouth, was bassist for the legendary art-rock band Talking Heads from 1974 to 1991, and his daughter, Katharine Weymouth, became publisher of The Washington Post two years ago.

While other architects may strive for rock-star status through their projects, Weymouth says he is proud to represent St. Louis-based HOK, which he joined in 2001, and now serves as senior vice president and Florida director of design at its office in the Tampa City Center building downtown.

He proudly wears the company logo on a lapel pin next to a blue bar representing the Ordre National du Merite, a presidential honor he received working with architecture legend I.M. Pei on the Louvre glass pyramid during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Putting ego completely aside, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University graduate says he has worked both independently and for other architecture firms.

“I'm very happy with HOK,” he says. “I love doing what I do, and I can get excited about a very small project or a very big project.”

The excitement is already building with the Dali project, under construction at Fifth Avenue and Bay Shore Drive with completion scheduled by January. More than 900 triangular glass panels are shaped around the building, vaguely resembling the molten clocks from Dali's famous 1931 surrealist painting “The Persistence of Memory.”

Weymouth says the design is inspired by Buckminster Fuller, one of his architecture mentors who collaborated with Dali and designed his museum in Figures, Spain. Fuller's design utilizes geodesic domes over the museum courtyard.

“It's a very logical way to do glass structures,” Weymouth says, noting that the St. Petersburg design expands on that concept. “The glass form, when it is all alone, is less interesting than when it is put in contrast with the concrete box. One is a foil to the other.”

Weymouth explains that the glass shapes are designed to allow natural light into the museum while leading visitors to the upstairs gallery where 2,140 pieces will be permanently housed, including 96 oil paintings and seven masterworks. None of the art pieces will be exposed to the sun, he says, adding that the 66,450-square-foot structure is built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

“Science and art are not two different things to me,” Weymouth says, adding that the museum's design is pointless if it doesn't properly protect and display its contents.

While projects such as the Dali have boosted HOK's profile in Florida, especially along the Gulf Coast, the firm does not need to compete for every single project proposal, Weymouth says. Along with museums, he cites science/technology, health care and justice buildings as its strongest suits.

Technology plays a big part in the design and construction of the new museum. Weymouth worked with glass manufacturer Novum Structures to shape the glass panels using a computer to make them fit together flowingly, and each piece of the structure imported from China, India and Germany is bar coded to ensure the right part goes in the right place.

As the museum began to take shape over the last year and a half of construction, Weymouth says he happened to be hanging around the site when a local couple on bicycles stopped by to take a look. One of them remarked, “It's alive!” — which he considers as much high praise as anything a French president could bestow.

“The real pleasure on every building I've worked on is seeing people react to it,” he says. “That's the real reward.”


Yann Weymouth's projects with HOK along the Gulf Coast over the last decade include:

John and Mable Ringling Museum, Sarasota

Manatee County Justice Center

Manatee County Public Safety Complex

Plant City Courts Complex

Prime Meridian, Tampa

St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts

Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg

Sarasota Quay

Tampa International Airport-Aircraft Rescue Firefighters (ARFF) Facility

University of South Florida Interdisciplinary Science Facility, Tampa



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