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Orlando Museum of Art downtown site to feature world’s first rooftop Chihuly garden

The garden will extend to the east and west faces of the building, linked in the center by a 10,000-square-foot galley in the tower. The swimming pool is one level below, and will serve guests of the hotel and condo residents.
The garden will extend to the east and west faces of the building, linked in the center by a 10,000-square-foot galley in the tower. The swimming pool is one level below, and will serve guests of the hotel and condo residents. (Pelli Clarke Pelli)

When the Orlando Museum of Art opens its new downtown branch in the 33-story tower by Summa Development Group, it will feature the world’s first rooftop garden featuring works by world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Museum Director Aaron De Groft told GrowthSpotter the garden would be built on the roof the 9-story podium of the building, a space that was largely unused in the original building design. Instead, it will host a lush “urban oasis” and tourist attraction in the heart of the downtown cultural district.

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“So, they were not going to use the roof,” De Groft said. “Until I kept pushing and pushing and saying, I would like to have an event space on the roof.” The garden will be designed to collect rainwater and capture sunlight so it can be lit at night using solar energy. “So that at night this garden lights up, and that means the people that own the condominiums and in the hotel rooms can look down onto this beautiful glass sculpture garden that will also be a natural garden.”

The rooftop Chihuly garden will be designed to host museum visitors, tour groups and private events.
The rooftop Chihuly garden will be designed to host museum visitors, tour groups and private events. (Pelli Clarke Pelli)

The project will be funded through an undisclosed gift from noted Winter Park philanthropist Alan Ginsburg, a former member of the OMA Board of Trustees. De Groft said Ginsburg wanted the garden to be a legacy gift to the museum, so it will only be accessible through the museum’s adjacent 10,000-square-foot gallery on the ninth level of the building. It will include a translucent glass conservatory building surrounded by plants, fountains, and, of course, glass sculptures.

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“Without Mr. Ginsburg, this would never happen,” De Groft said. “And in talking with me about our plans, he came up with this.”

Ginsburg, a real estate developer, has also pledged $4 million for the construction of the city’s new Holocaust Center in the downtown cultural district through his Ginsburg Family Foundation.

Summa Development principals Albert Socol and Marlene Weiss received approval for the master site plan in 2020. The mixed-use tower, which is designed by DLR Group will combine downtown’s first five-star hotel with a convention center and 129 branded residences. The condominiums will share the same branding as the 228-key hotel and will be built with the same 5-star finishes, Socol said.

They reached the deal with OMA to host its expansion in May and added architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, winner of last year’s American Architecture Award, to its design team to fit the museum program into the approved footprint of the building.

The architecture firm designing the new downtown Orlando Museum of Art counts The Museum of Modern Art and Chengdu Museum of Natural History among its portfolio of work.

PCP Principal architect William Butler is leading the design effort for the museum space, which will have a separate entrance from the street level on Church Street through a spacious gift shop on the ground floor. An elevator will lead to the second level of the building, which will be fully occupied by OMA. In all, the museum will lease 30,000-square-foot in the building.

“It’s an exciting project,” Butler said. “It’s the kind of interlocked mixed-use development that we tend to be part of in big, global international cities, where real estate pushes use vertically. And I think it’s also exciting because this roof garden, which will be the only Chihuly roof garden in the world, is up at higher level that extends a kind of fifth elevation of the building, where you get a very active public roof that’s a bit of an urban oasis in the middle of downtown.”

The size and scale of the permanent exhibition will be comparable to Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass near the base of the Space Needle, he said. “We believe that transformative projects can truly change the city, and that’s what excited us about wanting to be part of this team,” Butler said. “And it will be the kind of thing that will energize that section of downtown and actually put Orlando on the global art register.”

The gallery space will be designed with maximum flexibility to host traveling shows and exhibits that would bring “dynamism” to the project and attract repeat visitors throughout the year. “We’re designing it much like a big loft-like environment filled with the potential of natural light, with a lot of architectural personality that they can elect to use it over the next 100 years as they see fit,” Butler said.

This architectural rendering from 2020 shows the proposed 33-story before the addition of the rooftop garden on top of the podium.
This architectural rendering from 2020 shows the proposed 33-story before the addition of the rooftop garden on top of the podium. (DLR Group)

The artist’s work has been prominently featured at OMA, with the “Citron & Cobalt tower” anchoring the lobby rotunda of the museum’s Loch Haven facility. De Groft said it’s likely another “major piece” will be commissioned for the shared hotel and museum lobby downtown. And the rooftop garden is the gamechanger for downtown and for the developer.

“Now, because all these condos and hotel rooms will look down on this world-class base, it makes the entire project much more valuable to the developer and to the hotelier, and they’re getting it for free,” De Groft said. SDG also developed the CitiTower apartment building next door at 101 Lake Ave., where residents will with west-facing apartments will have premium views of the Chihuly garden.

De Groft and Butler say the intricate, mouth-blown glassworks should hold up well to the Florida weather, even at the roughly 90-foot elevation.

Butler said the question has come up in every OMA Board meeting. “In our firm, we just recently completed the Adrian Arash Performing Arts Center in Miami Dade and recently the Armani Casa Residences in Sunny Isles, so we are more than familiar with architectural code requirements for hurricane building. The garden, we’re working with a dynamic engineering team that we’re taking into consideration all kinds of ways to protect the glasswork on the rooftop,” he said.

Rick Birkbeck, sub contractor with the Orlando Museum of Art, puts the finishing touches to the base of "Cobalt and Citron" in the Chihuly exhibit.
Rick Birkbeck, sub contractor with the Orlando Museum of Art, puts the finishing touches to the base of "Cobalt and Citron" in the Chihuly exhibit. (JIM CARCHIDI/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

De Groft said he consulted with Chihuly-collaborator Parks Anderson on the durability of the works. “He said they work better outside because they’re made of glass, which looks fragile, but they’re not.” And the combination of the curved tower with the CitiTower across Lake Avenue should provide protection from harsh weather.

The Virginia Museum in Richmond also incorporates two Chihuly pieces in its outdoor sculpture garden, he added. “These things are very interesting. They can take the form of things that hang, things that are mounted on poles, to towers, to spikes. They’re just unbelievable.”

For now, all of the designs are still conceptual. De Groft said he and Butler have just begun talking to landscape architects about the garden. One of the benefits of the project is that it will provide a new green space downtown to replace the dozens of mature trees that have to be removed from the building site.

Socol and Weiss expect to break ground in the spring or summer of 2022 and anticipate a three-year construction period. De Groft said the goal is to open the facility during the 2024-25 season, which coincides with the OMA’s 100th-anniversary celebration, and he intends to be aggressive in marketing the site as Orlando’s premier venue for special events and weddings.

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“That will be a signature attraction for Orlando downtown, he said. “The only way you can access it via the museum and its elevators and things like that. It is a garden space. It is sculpture. There will be an inside component for events, a premier luxury event space, not only in Central Florida but in entire Southeast .”

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Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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