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Designs for our time and place

The signature of any major metropolitan area is its skyline. Mention New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta or Miami and immediate images spring forth of landmark buildings and bold profiles etched against the sky. These are cities that wear their characters on very public sleeves.

Then consider Southwest Florida. Despite their considerable charms, Fort Myers and Naples have not exactly sprouted cityscapes that linger in the mind. This conspicuous lack of identity is due largely to the growing-like-Topsy nature of this place we call home. There are some notable examples of local style and architectural integrity-the campus of Edison College, the projections for Florida Gulf Coast University, the Phil in Naples, the ongoing hope of a restored and vibrant downtown Fort Myers. But these are small oases in a much broader terrain, one that is predominantly marked by cookie-cutter strip malls and vast expanses of asphalt anchored by yet another brand-name, big-box store. There is too much that is generic and without a sense of place. Blame it on sprawl, y'all.

In other major markets, big business bankrolls the big buildings that make a skyline. But since the engine of big-time leisure drives our local economy, some of the best architectural design work remains hidden from widespread view-behind the guarded entrances of private, gated communities. And while there is an abundance of cutting-edge design taking place on the luxury homefront-out-of-state builders routinely visit Southwest Florida's exclusive communities to steal ideas to take back home-it takes work that is more in the public domain to elicit ripples of notice and help change the face of a place.

When you consider that this is one of the nation's fastest growing regions-a recent economic outlook conference at Edison College projected Lee and Collier counties will have a combined population approaching 2 million by 2030-it is time to hatch an architectural identity all our own. Every other year, the Southwest Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects reviews dozens of projects and chooses a select few that exemplify the best work of talented local architects. Gulfshore Life is proud to showcase these winning designs in this issue ("Designs of Excellence" page 102) and celebrate their contribution to our evolving public landscape.

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