I'm a historian, I study buildings, I live in Tampa. Not surprisingly, people ask me what interesting buildings there are in Tampa. Of course there is the Tampa Bay Hotel (University of Tampa Plant Hall), which is probably my favorite, and there are cigar factories. I also like the "Beer Can Building," although that's not an opinion everyone shares.
I've also come to appreciate MOSI (that's the Museum of Science and Industry, near the University of South Florida). MOSI started as a small youth museum funded by Hillsborough County in 1962. In 1982, the museum moved to its current location, in a building designed in 1978 by Dwight Holmes of Rowe Holmes Associates of Tampa. In 1995, a 135,000+ square foot addition opened, designed by Antoine Predock working with Robbins Bell and Kuehlem Architects of Tampa. Recently the museum added another building to the west to house Kids in Charge!
At first I thought MOSI's building was jumbled and messy, and sited too close to a busy road. But it also has little things to discover, like tubes through walls to let you peer outside, and the crushed scallop shells in the concrete sidewalks. And it's like a game to count how many triangles you can find. The tiered seating area under the dome was built with lines in the concrete to coincide with shadows from the columns on the summer and winter solstices (for the curious, summer solstice is June 21 this year). Indeed, in July 1995 Predock said of his work, "It's a building that has as its purpose science, the answering of questions, the exploring of the mysterious. That's what science and this museum is all about. That's what the building had to be."
The most prominent part of the building is the big sphere that holds the IMAX theater. It's covered with panels of polished blue steel that reflect the sky and the clouds, and can be quite beautiful depending on the weather. The blue is for the ever-present Florida sky, water, and rain. The architect, Antoine Predock, said he got the idea for a ramp circling the sphere while peeling an orange. In his words, the idea was to make the sphere unique: "We didn't want to do just another sphere or geodesic dome. We wanted to express a sphere in a way that was very unusual. we kind of unpeeled it and we thought of a sherical Rubik's cube and kind of distorted it." Also, "The building itself is a sign, the icon of the dark blue reflective metal Omnimax. You won't have any trouble finding this building."
MOSI is pushed next to Fowler Avenue, and an entrance drive passes under a walkway connecting the museum and the sphere. A large courtyard and butterfly garden building separate the museum from its wooded natural area behind, away from the street. Again, in Predock's words, "We thought a great way to engage the site was to block it, in a way, with the building. We deny the view to the site beyond, so when you move through the building in your car, you experience a wonderful surprise." The berm on the front of the building, by the street, is supposed to be a visual clue or link to the natural land out of view, but it seems to me that the greenery struggles against the baking heat of Fowler Avenue's six lanes of heavy traffic.
"Antoine Predock in Tampa" Florida Architect Nov/Dec 1982
Tampa Tribune June 12, 1992 "Science museum plans a big step 'beyond'"
Tampa Trubune March 13, 1995 "Architect visits his MOSI building vision"
Tampa Tribune July 1, 1995 "Magnificent MOSI; Science museum expansion opens today"
Tampa Tribune March 22, 2004 "MOSI Jr."