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Heron: Infusing an Urban Community in Tampa with Wellness and Sustainable Design

Over the course of the last decade, the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area in Florida has experienced strong employment growth and has become a more desirable place to live, attracting new residents from other parts of the country. The influx is populated primarily by people under 35 seeking an affordable urban environment near jobs, retail, and entertainment. Heron, a new residential development in the Water Street Tampa neighborhood, exemplifies how the city is successfully adapting and embracing high-density, walkable urban neighborhoods, in contrast with car-dependent suburban development.

Note

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of KPF Review.

Through the interplay of open space and solid structure, a distinct architectural and material expression, an active ground plane that enhances its walkable neighborhood, and an emphasis on occupant wellness, Heron is an award-winning, highly successful building that speaks to the wider goals of the Water Street neighborhood.

Heron's East tower balconies look towards Tampa's Ybor Turning Basin. Video courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Location

Situated on a waterfront site overlooking the Garrison Channel, Heron is the first residential project completed in the Water Street Tampa neighborhood, a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly urban environment designed to provide an enhanced street-level for residents, workers, and visitors. The world’s first WELL-Certified Neighborhood, Water Street Tampa’s public realm is defined by greenspace, walkable streets activated by shopping and restaurants, and an accessible waterfront. Tampa’s famed Riverwalk connects the district to the waterfront and the city’s urban core.

"We loved the simple materials, pure in their expression. The treatment of the concrete adds a nice warmth and the angles in the balconies...add interest to the facade... [the] countless other details are masterfully executed." - 2021 AIA Tampa Bay Design Awards Jury

Heron comprises a pair of sibling towers, one rising 21 stories and the other 26, connected by a retail podium below that includes a grocery store. The project provides a new lifestyle anchor for Water Street Tampa neighborhood and Riverwalk. Its base graciously extends this promenade, welcoming visitors with retail shopfronts, tree-lined paths, and outdoor seating. Above, the 420 rental residences each provide an intimate setting for occupants, offering a variety of floorplans and finishes to accommodate a wide range of resident tastes while prioritizing views over Water Street, Downtown Tampa, the Channel, and Hillsborough Bay beyond.

Design

Heron’s architecture is derived from the idea that the human spirit can be elevated by surrounding oneself with non-repetitive patterns and shapes, and authentic, natural materials. To that end, a defining element of Heron’s form is the towers’ balconies, which offer each unit private outdoor space. Angular shifts in the horizontal and vertical planes of these cellular forms reflect the varied scales of the internal spaces, so ultimately the units themselves serve as identifying characteristics of the towers. This animation replicates the organic, unpredictable quality of nature.

The design for Heron is infused with an innovative approach that creates a striking contribution to the skyline while also prioritizing material-conscious construction. Minimal building cladding allows for an authentic expression and celebration of its structure. Exposed concrete imprinted with a natural wood grain, known as board form, makes up the façade of both towers. This treatment elevates the structural material with an organic, tactile quality as it wraps each balcony, becoming an essential texture that sets the tone for residents’ private outdoor spaces.

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The organic architecture results in varied balcony configurations. Image courtesy of Kevin Scott.

On the podium, perforated metal screens shield an open-air parking structure and promote natural ventilation. Painted to recall Tampa’s rich palette of brick warehouses and historic cigar factories, the screens are subtly angled to catch the light and animate the façade at the pedestrian scale.

"By integrating natural materials and textures that are both refined and rough, the building offers an authentic connection to nature, making those who enter it feel both grounded and inspired,” says Trent Tesch, Design Principal for Heron. “We eliminated the typical façade cladding strategy, making architecture out of simple elements – concrete and glass for the towers, stone and metal for the base – to emphasize the pure, sculptural nature of the structure. This approach also highlights the non-repetitive, organic nature of the building’s form, which subtly varies to create visual distinction without stark contrast.”

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Palm trees emphasize Heron's simples material palette. Image courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Urbanism

The western tower has a direct ground connection along Water Street, while the eastern tower is lifted 60 feet and perched upon a sculptural tree column at its corner entry. Occupying a prominent position at the intersection of Channelside Drive and South Beneficial Drive, this signature design moment enhances the walkability of the site, allowing pedestrians to cut through the corner to easily access the Riverwalk, and providing a memorable front door for residents. To emphasize the importance of this urban space, lush landscaping extends the greenery of the Riverwalk directly to the tower’s main entry.

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An aerial of the northeast corner of Heron. Image courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Technology

KPF was the last architect selected to design a building as part of Water Street Tampa, but was the first to deliver a project as a result of quick decision-making, an efficient design with minimized cladding, and the work of KPFui, the firm’s in-house research and design team. KPFui created a computational tool to generate and test hundreds of massing options, allowing for fast, informed decision making at the very start of the project, compressing into 3 weeks a process that normally takes 2-3 months.

Balconies span the entirety of each tower. Video courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Working with Strategic Property Partners’ (SPP) established goals for the project – views to the water and nearby stadium, as well as plentiful daylight infused into the residential areas and pool decks – the KPFui team built a data-driven, iterative model to test various orientations and angles of the towers to identify suitable solutions. Through the award-winning, custom-designed web app, Scout, the design team and SPP compared the performance of the initial 400 options, ultimately proving instrumental in selecting the overall massing configuration for the final building.

Sustainability & Wellness

Embodying the wellness-oriented vision for Water Street in Tampa, Heron includes a curated collection of services and amenities – including a state-of-the art fitness studio, landscaping integrated throughout the ground plane and roof garden, and GreenWise Market located on the ground floor – designed to promote health and well-being, allowing residents and guests to live an active lifestyle inspired by nature. The towers’ orientation maximizes natural light within the units, while the wrap-around balconies serve as both shading devices and light diffusers for the apartments below, with finishes designed to reflect light indirectly into the units while reducing glare. Inspired by the natural form, purity, and vibrant life of Florida’s coral reefs, the project emphasizes the human experience, using wellness as a driver to define a new standard in urban living. By integrating natural materials such as wood and stone that are both rough and refined, non-repetitive patterns, and organic in quality, the building offers an authentic connection to nature as a way of elevating daily life.

Heron is certified LEED Gold, and includes a number of sustainability-focused processes and strategies. The project is designed for connectivity and accessibility, providing excellent walkability within a dense neighborhood which offers access to a range of diverse uses and several public transit options. There are currently 22 electric vehicle charging stations installed on site, as well as a bicycle storage room for tenants, encouraging alternative transportation to traditional gas-powered automobiles.

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Heron's rooftop pool. Image courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Heron’s development also reintroduces native and adaptive plantings into the approximately 80,000 square feet of open space, significantly exceeding local zoning requirements; and incorporates over 29,000 square feet of vegetation on the roof of the parking structure. During the construction process, waste and debris were diverted from landfill, and the project utilized low-emitting and regional materials, including paints and coatings, flooring, and composite wood throughout.

Heron is designed to maximize occupant comfort. All occupant spaces are equipped with thermal control and prioritize daylight and views. The building offers a cleaning system that focuses on reducing water and energy use and chemical toxicity, and prioritizes green cleaning products, materials, and equipment. The project significantly reduces indoor water use through efficient fixture selection and reduced irrigation needs for native/adaptive plantings. Heron achieved energy-use reductions through enhanced commissioning and refrigerant management and by green power purchases that will offset 35% of electricity use over a two-year period.

Achievements

Heron has been recognized for its design excellence with multiple awards. The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Heron with its highest honor, the H. Dean Rowe Award for Design Excellence in the 2021 Design Awards program. In announcing the award, the jury commented “We loved the simple materials, pure in their expression. The treatment of the concrete adds a nice warmth and the angles in the balconies that get progressively more pronounced as they rise up the building are a fun way to add interest to the façade. The perforated panels on the parking garage and countless other details are masterfully executed.” CREW Tampa Bay, the leading organization for women in the Tampa Bay real estate industry, honored the building with its Design Excellence award.

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The sculptural tree column of the eastern tower. Image courtesy of Kevin Scott.

Heron has proven highly successful in the rental market, surpassing 95% of units leased only seven months after opening, exceeding all initial goals. In fact, 30% of the building was pre-leased before potential tenants could access the building for a tour. As of this writing, Heron is 99% leased.

Through close collaboration between the KPF design team, our client, Interior Designer, Landscape Architect, and many other collaborators, Heron exemplifies the wellness-oriented goals of Water Street Tampa and offers a model for future downtown development.

Selected Awards

AIA Tampa Bay Design Awards 2022 - H. Dean Rowe Award for Design Excellence
CREW Tampa Bay Excellence Awards 2021 - Design Excellence Award
Architecture MasterPrize 2021 - Finalist