University of South Florida

College of The Arts

University of South Florida

Reimagining West Tampa's Heart: USF Architecture Students Breathe New Life into Centro Español

The historic Centro Español building in West Tampa has stood as a cornerstone of the community for over a century. Now, thanks to the vision and creativity of USF School of Architecture and Community Design students and their proposals, this landmark is for a vibrant new chapter.

Professor Adriana Pablos' design studio recently presented a series of innovative proposals for the Centro Españols future. These students – Cayla Hollander, Kayla Lacivita, Daniel Mariani, Sofia Montilla, Adam Offer, Nicholas Otzko, Jeffrey Proud, Courtney Schichtel, Daniel Tang, and Sarah Verty – tackled the challenge of transforming the building into a true community asset, reflecting the rich heritage and evolving needs of West Tampa.

How students described their work, thoughts and process:

Daniel Mariani poses next to his Architecture project.

Daniel Mariani | Student
Project Description: “The Urban Garden”

Historically, El Centro Español played a key role in West Tampa’s vibrant neighborhood in the early to mid 1900s. Today, the building merely exists to serve as storage. The aim of my project is to revitalize El Centro Español’s social atmosphere, and for it to once again become a special place for the community. Embracing Tradition in a Modern Setting West Tampa's neighborhoods were renowned for their warmth and lively social interactions. The cherished tradition of leisurely strolls and front porch gatherings knit the community together. Inspired by this heritage, my design introduces an urban garden with transparent boundaries, echoing the openness and warmth of the past.

Drawing inspiration from the architectural marvels of El Centro Español, I’ve incorporated a system of contemporary arches into the design. Within these arches is a peaceful garden where community members are invited to explore. The use of arches pays homage to the building’s Spanish architecture, creating a sense of continuity with the building's history while also evoking an interesting sense of spaciousness. They also aim to accomplish a feeling of openness and to provide an experiential journey from each functional space.

Interspersed through the system of arches, multi-purpose exhibition piazzas offer a platform for artistic expression. Here, music, performances, sculptures, and 2D art can all come to life, enriching the community experience. These spaces give artists the freedom to display or perform their works however they would like.

By blurring the lines between the street and the garden, we create a seamless transition between the public realm and the sanctuary of nature. This transparency provides a welcoming feeling and encourages people to ascend into the garden.

Adam Offer poses with his Architecture project.

Adam Offer | Student
Studio Description

When you walk and talk with the existing fabric of West Tampa, you will undoubtedly experience the sensation of place, the connected essence which survives well past any cultural moment, carrying on in the wake of its urban and social impact. From the lens of urban re-development and adaptive reuse, the density of housing present in West Tampa becomes a strategic advantage for any person looking to restore certain lost values once vibrant in these urban configurations of our past. In short, the walkable range of the once industrious West Tampa neighborhoods sprawl densely along two commercial lanes, each lined with historic capital, and present the opportunity for an ambitious re-development system centered around a prominent historical building—in our case El Centro Espanol—which can be positioned as the spiritual center of an area’s re-development. Our comprehensive design studio at USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design is thrilled to demonstrate what may be possible for the adaptive reuse of El Centro Espanol and how it might impact its surrounding neighborhoods, with hopes that in our nest of academic rigor, we may be able to provide research for those wishing to bring new improvements to this vital urban corridor.

Sarah Verty poses next to her Architecture project.

Sarah Verty | Student
Studio Description

For the 2024 Advance Studio with Professor Adrianna Pablos. The SACD students had the opportunity to learn about the history of west Tampa and it’s Spanish inhabitant and their culture. The official project was centered around the El Centro Espanol de West Tampa and how the students can reuse the building as a fine arts community center through adaptive re-use.

With the aid of the volunteers and non-profit members, the students went on a tour of not only the site itself, where they were able to feel the precedent of the building but also the community as a whole. Starting the tour with the importance of the center and how it influenced the community in west Tampa to walking down West Cherry Street where they saw the architecture type houses that were available to the community at the time. By experiencing this, the students were able to compare and contrast the residential architecture that existed and the residential architecture that is now being implemented by developers. As the students crossed North Albany Avenue to west main street, they were able to experience the historical buildings that helped the community prosper. Examples being the west branch library, the Rosa Valdez Settlement, The multiple Cigar factories, etc.

This project is a testament to the USF School of Architecture and Community Design's dedication to social responsibility and community engagement. These students are helping shape the future of West Tampa, one innovative design at a time.

For more on reimagining and preserving the architecture and charm of West Tampa, check out this article.