Shigeru Ban Architects, ZHA, Henning Larsen, and 15 others compete to design Sarasota Performing Arts Center

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, pictured here, is the city's current theater. (Clyde Robinson/Flickr)

Originally published by The Architect’s Newspaper.

For the selection, City representatives and members of the Van Wezel Foundation winnowed down an initial list of 43 respondents to 18 firms: Adjaye Associates , ArquitectonicaDiamond Schmitt, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), Foster + PartnersGehry PartnersHenning LarsenPelli Clarke Pelli ArchitectsRenzo Piano Building WorkshopREXSafdie Architects, Sanaa Jimusho (SANAA), Shigeru Ban ArchitectsSnøhettaSteven Holl ArchitectsStudio GangStudios Architecture, and Zaha Hadid Architects.

To further narrow the field, the partners are inviting the public to task force meetings and will solicit further input over six public meetings. A short list of four to six finalists will travel to Sarasota to present their plans to residents. (The selection process is different from a City Council–appointed panel that will make recommendations around the ownership, operation, reuse, and mission of the performing arts center.)

“We are proud to work with our partners at the City of Sarasota on this transformational project,” Van Wezel Foundation CEO Cheryl Mendelson said in a press release. “With the submission of qualifications from these accomplished firms, we now continue the robust review process that moves us closer to the vision of Sarasota as an international destination for the arts. This isn’t just a building. Together, we are building a place for ideas, a place for the arts, a place for you.”

The old arts center was inspired by seashells and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright stepson-in-law and protégé William Wesley Peters of Taliesin Associated Architects, a now defunct firm founded by Wright. The city needs a new Arts Center because Peters’ building is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. Water incursion has already damaged the 60-year-old Van Wezel Hall’s electrical systems and weakened its concrete. In light of these threats, planning for a new performing arts commenced in 2018, when the Sarasota City Commission okayed a master plan for nearby Bayfront Park that included a new Arts Center. The new Center will also sit seaside but it will be raised out of the flood zone, as well as upgraded with modern theater technology. The chosen design will also add more capacity to the 80,000-square-foot hall, which currently seats just over 1,700 people.

The Van Wezel Foundation will operate the new Sarasota Performing Arts Center as a nonprofit, while the City will own the building.

After an architect is selected next year, the project will move to permitting and construction. If all goes according to plan, Sarasota residents and visitors will be able to take in a show starting in 2028.

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