Gray Matters More Than Ever

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Join SAF for the Sarasota premier of “Gray Matters”, the award-winning documentary examining the extraordinary life of Eileen Gray, architect, interior designer and furniture designer. The film is an historical, scholarly and cinematic investigation of the career of one of the most influential modernist icons.

Special Guest Speaker: Dr. Chelsea Bruner, Interior Design Historian, Ringling College of Art + Design
Popcorn courtesy of Brad Battersby, Film Department Head, Ringling College of Art + Design

Tuesday, February 9, 2016
5:30 pm
Ringling College of Art + Design
Academic Center Auditorium
2699 Old Bradenton Road, Sarasota, FL 34234

SAF Members $10
Public $15
Please RSVP: Ringling College Students and Staff Free, with ID

Buy Tickets Online

Questions: 941-364-2199 or info@SAF-SRQ.org
Click to download the Ringling College Campus Map.

New Sarasota School Modernism

The following article by  Heather Corcoran with photos by Joshua McHugh, appeared in the February 2016 issue of Dwell Magazine. Congratulations to Sarasota FL homeowners and SAF members, John Pirman and Steve Tetreault, and architect Michael Epstein of Seibert Architects for an outstandingly fabulous project!


Pirman Tetreault House_photo_Joshua McHugh_Dwell

This Sparkling New Home Is a Perfect Remake of Classic Sarasota School Modernism

In a modernist seaside enclave, a couple calls in a pioneering architecture firm to build a new house rooted in midcentury style.

There’s more to Sarasota, Florida, than warm waters and white-sand beaches. The city also lures design lovers with its wealth of low-slung glass pavilions created by Paul Rudolph and the architects of the Sarasota School in the construction boom that followed World War II.

When hairstylist Steve Tetreault and illustrator John Pirman set out to build in Sarasota, they were well acquainted with Rudolph’s work. Tetreault owned a beach house by the architect, purchased some 30 years earlier on Siesta Key.

Over time, the 950-square-foot retreat began to feel cramped as its role shifted to a full-time residence for two. So, in 2008, Tetreault and Pirman called upon Michael Epstein of Seibert Architects—a firm opened in 1955 by Edward Seibert, who got his start working for Rudolph—to build a contemporary house in the modern style. But a half-century’s worth of building-code updates presented a new challenge: balancing midcentury aesthetics with today’s safety guidelines.

Steve Tetreault: Looking to the future, we decided it might be nice to build a modern home. The economy was in the tank, land was cheap, and builders were dying to do stuff. This neighborhood was established by John Ringling in the late 1920s, and empty lots are rarely available. But there was a house that burned down, so we were able to buy a long, skinny lot that nobody really wanted. Then we went to find one of the original Sarasota School architects left in town to design the house for us. The style originated with them, so they’re totally in sync with our thinking.

John Pirman: They used a lot of the concepts and proportions from the 1950s to build this house.

Tetreault: Our first meeting, we had a few specific things in mind. We have an art collection that we wanted to hang on walls. John needed to have a studio to work in, and it was important to me to have a place to just get away and be quiet. So the architect put John’s studio up front, and the master bedroom is at the opposite end of this long house.

Pirman: It’s pretty bare bones in its basic materials: concrete, steel, and glass. No frills, no adornments. The glazing systems are all storefront windows. The whole roofing system is a commercial application that you might find in an elementary school. They’re not necessarily that much less expensive than standard materials, but the labor costs are much lower.

Tetreault: The original modernists were using materials that came off the shelf. We thought if it was good for them then, it’s good for us now. The only trick about this is the application has to be done perfectly. Since there’s nothing decorative covering up seams or anything like that, it has to be done by a craftsman who knows what he’s doing.

Pirman: The house has a lot of integrity, because it’s Michael Epstein’s   vision and he followed through. Every last corner detail was drawn on the paper. It drove the builders crazy, because they always wanted to cover something or change something. We all know that change orders equal dollars.

Tetreault: We pretty much stuck to the plan. And I’m really happy we did.

Pirman: Michael shared our aesthetic; he understood it. We worked intimately with him, but they were all his ideas. He listened to us, and we listened to him. That’s what I think made this house successful. It was a team effort.

Tetreault: The difference between building in 1948 and building today has to do with codes. What they were able to get away with, which we aesthetically like so much—sliding glass doors with very minimal frames around them, and low, flat roofs—you would never be able to get away with now. The challenge then is to design something that gives us a lot of those ideas but still complies with today’s codes. The benefit of today is that my little Paul Rudolph beach house cost more to air-condition than this new house does—it was 950 square feet, and this is 2,500 square feet. The differences are this is insulated, the glass is all low-E glass, and the HVAC systems are so much better than they were then—they’re more efficient, and they cost less to operate.

Pirman: Building the house was a roller-coaster ride. Now living here, it’s completely changed my life. I think this is the best thing that I’ve ever done.

– See more at: http://www.dwell.com/my-house/article/sparkling-new-home-perfect-remake-classic-sarasota-school-modernism#1

SAF 2015 in review

Sarasota Architecture Matters

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for SAF’s blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Welcome to SAF’s Walker Guest House Replica

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walker guest house dining room

SAF’s Walker Guest House Replica is open to the public, free of charge, during The Ringling Museum hours. For special tours featuring a talk by SAF, please call 941-364-2199 or email info@saf-srq.org.

Walker Guest House Replica© 2015
Presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation
Photography Jenny Acheson, Model Emily Shaw, Styling Canned Ham Vintage

Sarasota Architect Joe King Replicates Iconic Paul Rudolph Structure

By Joe King
Sarasota Magazine, October 2015 Issue

Walker Guest House by Ezra Stoller_ESTO
Shown above: 1953 Walker Guest House photo © Ezra Stoller, ESTO

In 1952, when Walt Walker commissioned the young Sarasota architect Paul Rudolph to design a winter cottage on Sanibel Island, he surely knew that he would get a unique structure. But could he have imagined that the little house would become world-famous? Or that generations of architects and scholars would study it as one the most original works of midcentury architecture?

That all came true while Walker, far away from his cold native Minneapolis, lived in the house for 20 winters, enjoying the breezes and the feeling of an open-air pavilion when he raised the flaps, and a cozy cottage when he lowered them. Today the building is used as a guest house, and the Walker family continues to care for it. Because the house is private and in a fairly remote location, it’s been known mainly through Ezra Stoller’s wonderful photographs and Paul Rudolph’s renderings.

Recently, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation came up with the idea of building the Walker Guest House new—using Rudolph’s drawings and authentic materials—as an exhibit so anyone can visit and experience Rudolph’s great composition of flexible space. The exhibit is now installed on the grounds of the Ringling Museum and will open early next month and remain on exhibit until October 2016, eventually traveling around the country.

My construction team and I were charged with building the exhibit. What a challenge. And what a great opportunity to grapple with Rudolph’s ideas, design and technologies while building a temporary exhibit that can be taken apart, transported, and put back together at future venues.

It helped us to realize that every part of Rudolph’s design had a reason and purpose. More than any other architect of his generation, Paul Rudolph was able to combine historical knowledge, current ideas, extraordinary skills and natural talent to create works that were entirely new. As his friend Philip Johnson remarked, Rudolph was always admired for the speed of his mind.

Walker Guest House
Shown above: Walker Guest House perspective illustrations by Paul Rudolph, courtesy Paul Rudolph Archive, the Library of Congress

So the little Walker Guest House is dense with meaning and intention, yet at the same time it’s physically light and delicate. Rudolph designed the house as white-painted wood frame construction to tap into the long tradition of such houses in the American South, where he grew up, with porches and a comfortable domestic feeling. But then, as an innovator, he stretched the capacities of wood to their limits. The outrigger columns, for example, are just 2x4s, unbraced, 10 feet long. As one might imagine, these columns sagged and twisted in the original structure and required reinforcing over the years.

We were committed to wood construction (though steel or aluminum would have been an obvious improvement) because we wanted the form of the exhibit to be as authentic to Rudolph’s intentions as possible. We ended up using laminated veneer lumber, milling it to 1950s’ 2-by-4 dimensions (1 5/8” by 3 5/8”) and applying bondo and wood filler, primer and paint, to give the rough structural members a finished surface.

Rudolph’s large hinged wood panels are the design’s most innovative element. When the flaps are down they function as walls, creating a closed box, and when open they become roofs for an extended porch. The occupant can adjust the flaps to any position in between, for breezes, shade and view.

Rudolph envisioned the flaps as a way to create dynamic architectural space, which he perceived as a fluid having both volume and velocity. By adjusting the flaps, the building and its space came into motion, and for Rudolph this could engender a rich perceptual and even emotional experience. He called this the psychology of space.

We built the flaps like large doors with wood framework and plywood skins. We wondered whether to apply wall paint or roofing material. (Is it a wall or a roof?) We chose white enamel paint everywhere inside and out to emphasize the abstraction of the form. We replicated Rudolph’s elaborate rigging system (Lt. Rudolph worked on ship construction during World War II), including crafting steel counterweights to match the originals’ size and weight, and using ropes faithful to the period. But we did reduce friction in the system by using ball bearing hinges and blocks. The flaps are much easier to use—and therefore better for experiencing the space—than in the original structure.

The Walker Guest House is designed on an 8-foot-by-8-foot grid, horizontally and vertically. This design of pure rationality and symmetry not only reflects Rudolph’s design discipline, it also acknowledges the role of history and Rudolph’s commitment to participating in the ongoing flow of architectural innovation. This was a radical position to espouse in 1952, as modernism purported to reject history (though it never really did). One can think of the four symmetrical outriggers/porches as a reinterpretation of the geometry and ordering principles of say, Andrea Palladio’s Villa Rotunda, which in turn represented a rediscovery of ancient architectural principles.

Today we can look to James Turrell’s Skyspace at The Ringling, where four-sided symmetry orients and grounds the visitor in a static environment, which then frames the continuous motion of the sky viewed above. At the Walker Guest House, Rudolph’s wood squares act as frames for the view of space in motion beyond; and better yet, you can actually walk through the frame and into the space.

The potential of the Walker Guest House as an architectural exhibit reminds me of Mies van der Rohe’s 1928 German Pavilion in Barcelona. It existed as an exhibit for a short time before it was taken down, and then was known only through photographs for more than 50 years. It was rebuilt in the mid-1980s. I was fortunate enough to visit, and it helped inspire me to become an architect. I learned years later that Paul Rudolph also visited the rebuilt Barcelona Pavilion and it had a profound influence on him as well. I hope that, in turn, the Walker Guest House exhibit will inspire and influence visitors to think about how the art of architecture can affect and influence how they see and experience the world.

Joe King is a local architect and contractor. With Christopher Domin, he is co-author of “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses”. King and Domin will give presentations about Paul Rudolph and the Walker Guest House at SAF’s SarasotaMOD Weekend November 6 – 8, 2015. Visit SarasotaMOD.com for more information. Click to buy tickets online.
Sarasota Magazine is a SarasotaMOD 2015 Media Sponsor.

Modern Sarasota Looks to Its Roots

This Fall, The Groundbreaking Work of Paul Rudolph Comes Into Focus with an Exhibition and a Symposium Devoted to the Great Modernist’s Architecture

By Beth Dunlop, Editor in Chief, Modern Magazine

Riverview High School, completed in 1958 in Sarasota, Florida, was one of the architect Paul Rudolph’s great early achievements. Passively cooled and instinctively green, it was at once modern and tropical, and for all its size (a high school after all), it had a surprisingly delicate presence, the kind of open and airy architecture that is anathema to school boards thinking about building fortresses resistant to hurricanes and school shootings. Against considerable outcry, the school was demolished in 2009, an act that began to focus much-needed national and international attention on the remarkable modernist architectural legacy of Sarasota, of Rudolph, and of his colleagues and followers.

Unlike some of America’s other shrines of residential modernism (Palm Springs and New Canaan, to name two), Sarasota has largely stayed out of the limelight. The reasons are many: among them, that it is not on the main tourist trails of Florida, and historically, it was settled, largely, by affluent publicity-shunning Midwesterners, though one could hardly call its most famous residents—John and Mable Ringling of circus fame—avoiders of publicity.

And yet, this Florida Gulf Coast city is one of the most important enclaves of mid-century modernism in America. Starting in the years just after World War II, when Rudolph moved there to work with Ralph Twitchell, Sarasota became home to a remarkable group of architects who worked in an idiom that one might call part-Bauhaus, part-Neutra, and all Sarasota. Much later, it was dubbed the Sarasota School of Architecture, but one can be quite sure that at the time, the architects working there simply thought they were making modern buildings. And though he stayed in Sarasota the better part of a decade before he became dean of architecture at Yale University in 1958, Rudolph was really the linchpin of the movement.

Rudolph’s Sarasota comes into focus this fall with an exhibition and a three-day conference devoted to those years and his buildings. A small exhibition entitled “Paul Rudolph: The Guest Houses” will be on view at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art from September 25 to December 6, centering on the small guest houses for which he became best known in Florida. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation has worked tirelessly to raise the funds to erect a replica of one of these, the Walker Guest House, on the grounds of the museum for the show. The Walker Guest House, built in 1952 for Dr. Walter Walker, is still standing on Sanibel Island, some one hundred miles to the south of Sarasota, and has been in continuous family use by Walter’s widow, Elaine Walker.

The guest house reconstruction will also be the centerpiece of the second annual SarasotaMOD Weekend mounted by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. The three-day event, running November 6–8, offers an opportunity to tour, study, and celebrate Sarasota’s fine collection of houses, beach clubs and pavilions, and civic and commercial buildings. “There’s no question that Rudolph was the key, but one can’t really talk about Rudolph and Sarasota alone,” says Carl Abbott, a Sarasota architect who studied under Rudolph at Yale. “It’s not just Sarasota but the fact that Sarasota led him to the world.”

A southerner by birth, the son of an itinerant preacher, Rudolph had worked briefly in Sarasota immediately after graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). He then headed off to graduate school at Harvard, then home to Walter Gropius and ripe with the ideas of the Bauhaus. War intervened, but afterwards Rudolph completed his Harvard graduate degree in architecture and moved back to Sarasota to work with Twitchell, with whom he’d interned as a student.

With Twitchell, and later in his own practice, Rudolph began designing a remarkable body of work, focusing primarily on small, delicate buildings that stood like fragile pavilions in the landscape, open to the sun and breezes and yet shielded from both. The Walker Guest House was among the first of these, unpretentious and yet ingenious in the way it could open to the elements or close them out— and it is the only extant example of this early work that is not in, or near, Sarasota. Simple in both form (there were some exceptions, of course) and detail, his buildings made the most of rather basic materials, allowing the structure to become part of the landscape and not dominate it. He experimented with plywood and concrete, pushing building materials to their newest and most creative uses.

Later, Rudolph’s work would change dramatically, but in Sarasota it was delicate, light, and airy—and experimental. His Cocoon House (officially the Healy Guest House of 1950) has a concave (or catenary) roof made of a spray-on vinyl building material developed by the U.S. armed forces and called Cocoon (thus the house’s name), and jalousie walls that can open and close. Rudolph’s 1953 Umbrella House has a second roof suspended over both the structure and the backyard, again a response to light and heat. The Tampa architect John Howey, who wrote a major volume on Sarasota architecture (“The Sarasota School of Architecture”), looks to the beginnings of the movement citing “respect for the land and the climate, appreciation for what was good from the past, eye for local materials, and use of new construction techniques.” After Rudolph connected with Sarasota’s great design patron of the time, Philip Hiss, he went on to design the two high schools, the late and still lamented Riverview and the Sarasota High School, actually a large addition to a small existing building.

Those underlying ideas—both the philosophical and the pragmatic—would guide not just Twitchell and Rudolph but those who followed. Rudolph and Twitchell were joined in their modernist mission by a singular group of architects, including (and not limited to) Victor Lundy, Gene Leedy, Jack West, Tim Seibert, William Rupp, Bert Brosmith, Frank Folsom Smith, John Howey, Mark Hampton, and the aforementioned Carl Abbott. Some came and stayed, while others moved on but not without leaving a mark.

In a 1995 talk in Los Angeles given just two years before his death, Rudolph spoke of the driving forces behind his work; he called them “the DNA of architecture, the essences” that he said had guided his work since the early 1950s, his years in Sarasota. For Rudolph these principles were “consideration of site, of space, of scale, of structure, of function, and of spirit,” a list that provides enormous insight into his approach to architecture.

The legacy of the whole Sarasota school was explored at last year’s MOD Weekend, and is of course the overriding preoccupation of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, but as Abbott has pointed out, Rudolph was the foundation. This year’s program features a line-up of speakers including Joe King and Christopher Domin, authors of “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses”, and Timothy Rohan, whose “Architecture of Paul Rudolph” was published last year. The Los Angeles architect Lawrence Scarpa will moderate a panel entitled “We Knew Rudolph” that will feature Abbott, as well as Roberto de Alba, author of “Paul Rudolph: The Late Work”.

SarasotaMOD’s biggest draw, however, is an almost full day of tours that will take in some of the city’s fine modernist houses and will include a visit to an immaculately restored Rudolph masterwork, the Umbrella House and the remarkable and also just-restored Sarasota High School, which was saved through the efforts of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and others—and really is not a consolation prize for the loss of Riverview but a triumph on its own.