Join us for the fourth annual SarasotaMOD Weekend – tickets go on sale August 15th
Max Strang, a Winter Haven native who made his architectural reputation in Miami,
turned some heads when he returned to his Polk County hometown to design an elegantly bold, contemporary downtown apartment building called Raingarden Lofts.
The town is known for the progressive modernism of architect Gene Leedy. But still, the lofts, completed in 2015, stand out. Winter Haven is not Miami.
The façade of the building evokes Paul Rudolph‘s 1958 Deering House on Casey Key. That is not by chance. In 1980, when he was 10, Strang’s parents bought a rundown house on Casey Key next to Leedy’s restored beach house, which was a few houses up the beach from the temple-like Deering House. Although now largely hidden from street view by a new house on the site, it has become an icon of the Sarasota School of architecture.
“My father purchased a decrepit old shack next door to a house Leedy had renovated for his own use,” said Strang, whose firm is known as [STRANG], complete with the brackets. “I used to go shelling there all the time.”
He also used to visit the Leedy-designed Syd Solomon House on the south end of Siesta. No longer standing because of beach erosion, it was “a powerful space, too,” Strang recalls.
These childhood experiences shaped the architect’s outlook. And he firmly believes Florida’s midcentury modern architecture still has plenty to teach the designers and clients of today.
“A good Sarasota School of Architecture house blurs the indoor-outdoor (divide) so well – the walls of glass, the light coming in from different directions,” Strang said Monday in a telephone interview. “For me, it is a sense of peace when you are inside one of those homes.”
He should know. His childhood house in Winter Haven was designed by Leedy, who got his start in Sarasota in the early 1950s before heading to Polk County.
After graduating from the University of Florida, Strang worked for Leedy as an intern. “He sent me to Tampa as free labor for John Howey, doing drawings” for Howey’s 1995 book, “The Sarasota School of Architecture.” He later worked in the firm of the late Pritzker Prize-winner Zaha Hadid. His firm has offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Telluride, Colorado, where he lives.
For the Raingarden Lofts (shown above) and the under-construction Tuckman House (shown below) in Fort Lauderdale, Strang and his bright young staff took some clues from Paul Rudolph in considering the site and climate. Both structures have vertical exterior “fins” that help control sunlight, without blocking it. Rudolph showed how this could be done at the Deering House (its beefy beachside columns cast shadows on the interior), Sarasota High School, the Umbrella House , the Milam House on Ponte Vedra Beach and other structures that sought to tame the sun without blocking it completely. “The fins on the second floor, those are in response to climate and privacy in the same way Rudolph’s Milam House did with the staggered squares and the sunshades,” Strang said of the Tuckman House. “The architecture is performing a role to address the climate. The style just comes with it.”
Strang is often approached by clients who want the delicacy of the midcentury modern houses, but the luxury and size of today.
“All the time, I get a new commission to do a house, and the client will bring me reference images of Sarasota School houses, or (1940s) Case Study houses in Los Angeles, yet they are asking for an 8,000-square-foot house,” he said with a laugh. “I think there is a nostalgia for the smaller scale of these things,” a scale that is hard to achieve when flood-zone requirements mandate the elevation of waterfront homes.
“And, there are the strict product approvals in South Florida,” Strang said. “It is hard to get the sizes of the windows that we would prefer. The Florida Energy Code says you can only have so much glass in the house, too. So it is a struggle to match the delicacy and transparency of those early buildings.”
But, the ideas of Rudolph, Leedy, Tim Seibert, Victor Lundy and others endure, and can be reused, if not reproduced, he said. Those ideas include clarity of design concept, the honest and innovative use of materials, using structure to define space and not compete with it, and blending indoors with outdoors.
“It is the repurposing of the ideas, not repurposing the exact iteration of the building,” Strang said. “It underscores the timelessness of the Sarasota School. The modern movement probably got overtaken by schlocky modern buildings too quickly, and the good stuff wasn’t appreciated. Its time ended prematurely. So I am happy to help share the ongoing relevance of midcentury modernism.
“There can be very schlocky modern architecture, too. When someone does a traditional building poorly, it is not as bad as when someone does a modern building poorly.” SAF
In the preservation world, the term “recent past” most commonly refers to historic places younger than 50 years old. Modernism, which is another term often associated with the recent past, is generally defined as a style that began to flourish in the United States in the 1930s. Both describe places and cultural resources that are among the most under-appreciated and vulnerable aspects of our nation’s heritage.
You may already know about our country’s recent past story through architectural icons like the Farnsworth House or Glass House (both National Trust Historic Sites), designed landscapes like Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park, and nationally significant historic sites like Lorraine Motel, associated with the civil rights movement.
But this story is also told in less prominent places that are equally important to local communities and reveal much about who we are and where we’ve come from—early fast-food restaurants, drive-through branch banks, post-war housing projects, and suburban developments. And, often, these lesser-known places are the ones at risk, perceived as expendable, unattractive, or unworthy of preservation.
Here are 10 things you can do to help save a place from the recent past in your community:
Special events, such as workshops and lectures by experts, can help to raise public awareness of the significance of a historic property. Shown: Sarasota High School Addition (1960, architect Paul Rudolph) Rehabilitation Community Charette.
1. Form a volunteer group. Gather fellow residents who care about preserving your community’s recent past places. Working together, you can research and nominate buildings for landmark designation; become your community’s advocate for the recent past and Modern design; create a website and maintain a discussion board; and host tours and other special events (see the next tips).
Example: The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) is a volunteer group that was formed in 2002 in response to the rapid destruction of Sarasota, Florida’s midcentury modern heritage, referred to as the Sarasota School of Architecture.
SAF gives periodic tours of the Umbrella House (1953, architect Paul Rudolph, restoration 2015).
2. Offer tours. Tours are a tried-and-true method for building a community’s appreciation for its historic resources and significant architecture. Put together a bus tour that takes guests past Modern structures throughout the neighborhood. Create a self-guided driving tour accompanied by a booklet that visitors and residents can continue to use. Or set up docent-led tours of noteworthy buildings from the recent past. Visit SAF for upcoming tours.
3. Host special events. Special events encourage those interested in mid-century architecture to connect with like-minded people. These can include fundraising events; special exhibits (complete with opening night parties) that feature the architecture and modern heritage of your community; or a lecture series that features local historians, architects, or professors to speaking about the area’s modern architecture. SAF presents the third annual SarasotaMOD Weekend, a midcentury modern architecture festival in Sarasota, Florida on November 11-13, 2016. This year, MOD celebrates renowned architect Victor Lundy FAIA and the Cit of Sarasota has declared November 7 – 13 Victor Lundy Week. Featuring a special guest appearance by Mr. Lundy with trolley and house tours, Lundy’s art exhibition, Lifetime Achievement award presentation, film screening, panel presentation, parties, and dinners. In partnership with Sarasota Museum of Art, a division of Ringling College of Art + Design. Click to purchase tickets.
4. Submit a nomination to an endangered places list. When a site is threatened by demolition, alteration, or neglect, nominate it to a local organization’s endangered list. This is an excellent way to generate publicity, raise awareness of threatened Modern and recent past places, and explain to a broader audience why these types of places are significant and worthy of protection.
Tip: If you know of a significant and endangered mid-century site, consider submitting a nomination to the National Trust’s annual America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list.
Being listed on the National Register for Historic Places can help in planning for federally assisted projects and in getting tax breaks. Shown: Sarasota High School Addition, 1960, architect Paul Rudolph, restoration 2015. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places June 27, 2012. Photo ©Anton Grassl, Esto
5. Conduct community workshops. Workshops and seminars can be useful ways to educate specific audiences about buildings and cultural sites from the recent past. These classes can help teach participants the basics of historic preservation, give them an overview of the history of post-war architecture, offer tips on how to identify threats or problems, find appropriate replacement materials to keep mid-century homes looking true to their original architecture, and more. Contact a local preservation group for help or partnership opportunities.
6. Educate those involved in the decision-making process. It is equally important to educate state and municipal historic preservation officers, local planning agency staff, and preservation commission members about the importance of mid-century resources. Contact these groups and encourage them to attend local training programs.
Tip: Some state historic preservation offices have created training programs to educate historic preservation commission members. These programs can also help real estate agents realize the potential of the post-war market and promote these properties to their clients.
7. Survey resources from the recent past. Identifying which recent past sites merit protection is one of the first steps toward preserving and protecting them. But surveys should involve more than just identification—they should also work to establish historic context, educate and involve the community, and identify areas for future research.
Resources: National Register Bulletin No. 24: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning will give you the basics of cultural resource surveys. The Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Identification offers information and guidelines on one approach you can take when conducting a survey.
8. Evaluate the property. Once an area has been surveyed, it needs to be evaluated to see if it meets the criteria for National Register listing or local designation. The evaluation process includes steps such as determining historic context, using time or association with living persons to establish significance, and researching whether the site is located in an historic district.
Resource: The National Register Bulletin No. 22: Guidelines for Evaluating and Nominating Properties that Have Achieved Significance Within the Past Fifty Years outlines eight guidelines to help evaluate resources.
Cocoon House (aka Healy Guest House), 1948, architects Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph. The house was locally designated by the City of Sarasota in 1985. The Cocoon House was selected in 1953 by the New York Museum of Modern Art as one of the 19 examples of houses built since World War II as a pioneer in design for the future.
9. Make the case for the site’s importance. Before nominating a recent past property to the National Register or other local designation, it’s critical to prepare a clear, compelling, and well-documented case that establishes its importance. Establishing significance does more than just help your nomination, though; it contributes to the wider argument for saving Modernist and recent past places.
Tip: Refer to previous nomination forms for recent past properties that have been successfully listed in the National Register of Historic Places as examples when preparing your case.
10. Pursue National Register listing or local historic designation. While National Register listing does not provide properties direct protection from privately funded actions, it does often trigger consideration in the planning for federal or federally assisted projects, and can pave the way for potential tax benefits. When pursuing local designation, be aware that many communities may follow the “50-year rule,” creating an obstacle for historic designation of recent past resources. If amending the rule is not an option, remember that National Register listing can raise awareness of the importance of the site and help garner public support while the property comes of age for local designation.
From sketchbook musings to inspired design, Lundy’s work showcased the genius of an eclectic thinker
“When I think thoughts, I draw thoughts.”
The career of architectural iconoclast Victor Lundy took many shapes over decades of designing buildings: the grand, imposing rectangles of the United States Tax Court Building in Washington, D.C. (1974), a deconstructed cube that redefined the limits of government architecture; the tree-like columns clustered around the entrance of the Warm Mineral Springs Motel in Sarasota County, Florida (1958), concrete umbrellas beckoning travelers; and the bold, angular forms of the Church of the Resurrection in Harlem, New York (1966), a powerful collection of simple shapes. But no matter the creative solution or inspired design, any building usually started as an idea sketched on a piece of paper with an ebony pencil. Lundy was an inveterate artist and drawer, constantly creating and communicating his artistic and architectural visions on endless sheets of paper.
“When he traveled, he sketched buildings in order to figure them out,” says Donna Kacmar, an architect and architecture faculty member who is currently working on a book about Lundy. “He is really curious about the world, the way people live, and the buildings that he visits. He doesn’t sketch to record, but to understand, to grasp how the building was crafted.”
United States Tax Court Building
Drawing, so central to Lundy’s creative process, also serves as a potent metaphor for his career. An adventurous believer in progressive architecture, Lundy had an artist’s bent for redefinition and exploration, rarely repeating himself, and always letting the site and situation determine his drawings and designs (he was even an early experimenter with pneumatics and inflatable architecture, before the avant-garde began popularizing the form). His vision, and desire to maintain a small, hands-on practice, has made him a lesser-known member of the Modernist canon, one without a signature aesthetic. But his versatility and vitality, which filled up stacks of “brain books” with idea and observations about the built and natural world, suggest a creative force worth studying and emulating.
“With every problem I make these images out the blue—initial responses—and then I fuss with them, refine, change, and discard,” Lundy told Dwell magazine. “I work towards the irreducible.”
Born in a New York City brownstone in 1923 to a Russian immigrant family, Lundy was recognized for his drawing talent early on, a gift which played a significant role throughout his life. Encouraged by his mother, he developed his artistic talents, and eventually attended New York University, where he would begin to study architecture and learn the Beaux Arts method. When he enlisted in the Army Special Training Program and was sent to the European front during WWII, a surgeon noticed his sketches while Lundy was getting treated for his war injuries (he filled up more than two dozen sketchbooks overseas, eight of which survived), and recruited him to sketch a new medical procedure he was developing, allowing him to miss eight dangerous months on the front..
Drawings from Victor Lundy’s wartime sketchbooks (top row) and Rotch travels
But perhaps the most impactful drawing he made, at least early on in his career, was a watercolor that earned him one of his first commissions. After returning from WWII (with a Purple Heart for his wounds), Lundy attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design, learning from modernists such as Walter Gropius, then set out for Sarasota, Florida, to make a name for himself. A local group searching for a designer for a new chamber of commerce building saw one of Lundy’s pictures, a watercolor of Notre Dame Cathedral, and asked him to create a sketch. The resulting Blue Pagoda Building, topped with celadon blue roof tile, became one of his early classics.
Blue Pagoda Building, photo ©Jenny Acheson
Discussions of the Sarasota School of Modernism often focus on Paul Rudolph, another Modernist working in the Gulf Coast community. But Lundy’s varied body of work was hard to match. In addition to the Chamber of Commerce, he created a celebrated drive-in church for a congregation in nearby Nokomis that was featured in Life magazine. His playful Warm Mineral Springs Motel, while not a standout in his body of work, according to Lundy, provides a bit of personality on a drab roadside stop, as well as an experiment in precast concrete paraboloids. To Lundy, the unique shape symbolized the fountain of youth.
Where other modernist architect, who didn’t have an artistic or Beaux Arts background, would create stark, geometric blueprints, Lundy’s sketches leapt off the page, showing an inherent sense of color and creative expression.
“Sarasota was a great place for a young architect trying to get work, and do the best job he could with the projects that he had,” says Kacmar. “He found ways to do a lot with a little, but it also created a drive to innovate and figure out unorthodox ways to solve problems. He also has a great respect for structural engineers.”
Lundy experimentation also earned him church commissions, a type of building naturally imbued with symbolism, and perfect for his poetic approach to design. St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, a swooping grace note of laminated lumber, became one of a number of adventurous creations he made for congregations around the country. The Unitarian Meeting House in Hartford, Connecticut (1964), envisioned as a lotus blossom, contains a singular worship space separated by a series of concrete fins, and a roof held aloft by a unique system of steel cables. The First Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut (1965), was covered by a series of parabolic arches meant to symbolize a set of praying hands.
St. Paul Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall, photo ©Jenny Acheson
“Lundy tended to work with younger congregations, and each building featured one idea done beautifully,” says Kacmar. “His religions is architecture and art.”
Lundy’s scrappy start in Sarasota set a tone for the rest of his career. He kept his practice small, hiring just a handful of employees, and focused on just a handful of projects. He also followed projects without just focusing on the bottom line. He went for a client meeting to submit a design a church in Harlem, and when he arrived, discovered he had won the job because no other architect bothered to show up. The result, his powerful Church of the Resurrection, has since been demolished, but offered a monumental, almost Brutalist interpretation of sacred space.
As architecture shifted in the late ‘60s and ‘70s away from the classic definitions of Modernism, Lundy would have appeared perfectly poised to seize more of the spotlight, with his knack for sculptural, unorthodox designs and experimentation. Lundy’s small office never produced the same volume of work as his some of his peers, and despite certified late-career masterpieces, including the bold United States Tax Court Building in Washington, D.C., and the Sri Lankan Embassy, his work isn’t as well known as it should be. A later position as design director at the firm HKS resulted in few built works.
Retired and living in Houston, Lundy still spends his days painting and sketching, continuing to fill up notebooks with ideas and thoughts, as he’s done his entire life. He’s disappointed that some of his built work hasn’t been as well preserved as it should be, that the end results of his inventive sketches haven’t been protected. It’s perhaps the unfortunate result of an eccentric creative career. Lundy’s life has been filled with a number of unique projects and career milestones—having his work features in an exhibit in Moscow during the Cold War or designing futuristic space flowers for the 1964 New York World’s Fair—that make him tough to pin down. While that diversity makes Lundy harder to classify, it often makes his work all the more striking.
“He didn’t spend time creating a marketing package,” says Kacmar. “He focused on his design work. Everything he did was singularly developed.”
The third annual SarasotaMOD Architecture Festival celebrating artist and architect Victor Lundy takes place in Sarasota, FL November 11-13, 2016. Featuring the opening party in the iconic Blue Pagoda building, Lundy art exhibition, legacy presentations and film documentary at Ringling College of Art + Design, trolley tours of Lundy and Sarasota landmarks and midcentury homes tours. SarasotaMOD is presented by Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) in partnership with Sarasota Museum of Art, a division of Ringling College of Art + Design. Click to Buy Tickets
The Tide is Turning for a Pivotal Modernist Master
By Mike Singer
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Paul Rudolph was one of the most prominent architects in the world. (Image 1)
Rudolph, an itinerant Methodist minister’s son from Alabama, taught some of today’s most prominent designers: Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA; Richard Rogers, Hon. FAIA; Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA; Charles Gwathmey, FAIA; Stanley Tigerman, FAIA; David Childs, FAIA. Rudolph also chaired the Department of Architecture at Yale University’s School of Art & Architecture (which he also designed) from 1958 to 1965—a particularly fertile time in both architectural education and architecture.
“Rudolph was this amazing instructor who made you do things and think things you never thought you had in you. In our class there were 15 people, and half were from other countries. He called us his ‘little United Nations,’” says Carl Abbott, FAIA, a former Rudolph student who returned to Yale in 2008 to rededicate the School of Art as Rudolph Hall, after a multimillion dollar renovation by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.
With its staggered towers, corrugated concrete surfaces, and complex interior spaces, Rudolph Hall was as difficult as the architect himself. (Image 2)
“Rudolph’s whole life was architecture and his students were his family,” says Abbott. “He was very violent to some [students] and amazingly generous to others. If you were in a group he really cared about, he would push you harder than you could ever stand, and he would make you see things in your own work that you could never have possibly seen.”
A mysterious fire gutted Rudolph’s school in 1969, only six years after it opened, damaging the building and destroying student work, instructor materials, and administrative files. It also damaged Rudolph’s reputation at a time when campus unrest—at Yale and hundreds of other schools around the country—represented a perfect metaphor for a broken academic system.
The curricula within America’s “citadels of learning” were out of step with the social change that students desired. But the physical citadels, the results of campus growth and monolithic planning throughout the 1950s and 1960s, were also out of step with burgeoning ideas about community, access, and social equity.
Although he completed an eclectic mix of over 150 buildings, and designed an almost equal number of unbuilt ones during five decades of practice, Rudolph has been categorized—and marginalized—as a Brutalist who fell out of favor in the 1970s when the architectural milieu shifted away from High Modern concepts of form, procession, and materiality.
While that may have very well been the end of Rudolph’s legacy, he has come roaring back in the last several years—and there’s plenty to reconsider.
Restoring the Last Modernist
“[Rudolph] cultivated the image of a maverick who would save architecture from the monotony of the dominant International Style by reintroducing subjects that he said had been ‘brushed aside,’ namely: monumentality, decoration, symbolism, and urbanism,” writes Timothy M. Rohan, associate professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in The Architecture of Paul Rudolph (Yale University Press, 2014). “Rudolph advocated a heroic approach to modernism that extolled individuality, aesthetics, and creativity.” Rohan’s book is the first scholarly monograph on Rudolph since his death, in 1997, and it provides much-needed context for the architect’s long and often misunderstood career.
From Rudolph’s Sarasota, Florida, beach cottages in the 1940s and ’50s—such as the
Healy Guest House (Image 3) and Revere Quality House, to his role as one of the developers of the expressive concrete monumentality known as Brutalism in the 1960s’ Government Service Center in Boston, Orange County [N.Y.] Government Center (Image 4), and Endo Laboratories, in Garden City, N.Y. (Image 5), Rohan’s book has prompted a re-evaluation of Rudolph’s work, and his working style.
“He drew every day, from when he was a teenager to the last weeks of his life,” said Rohan. “He didn’t become a larger-scale shop like his contemporaries I.M Pei, Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer. At the most, in New York in the late 1960s, he never had more than 30 architects and never partners. He believed that nothing should come between you and your work, and didn’t think architectural partners were a good idea.
“He had close supervision of everything and his approach was very artisanal,” said Rohan. “He was never a brand. His office may have changed, but it always had a nimbleness and an adaptability to it. We are living in an age of low overhead—I think architects today can appreciate that anew.”
After his 1960s rejection Rudolph turned inward, to lavish interior-design projects during the 1970s that made use of reflective surfaces, curvilinear geometry, and experimental lighting, including Rudolph’s own Beekman Place residence and the townhouse of 1970s fashion designer Halston in Manhattan along with numerous Fifth Avenue apartments. In the 1980s, he reworked many of his expressive Modernist ideas in projects overseas, such as the Colonnade Condominium in Singapore (Image 6) and the Lippo Centre in Hong Kong.
But, unless you were a hardcore Rudolph junkie, you wouldn’t necessarily have known about these projects. They were not part of the Rudolph brand that, for many observers, reached its apogee in the late 1960s; nor were they as prominently featured in architecture media when they were completed.
“How do you preserve a legacy when you don’t know it’s a Rudolph?” asked Sean Khorsandi, AIA, co-chair of the Paul Rudolph Foundation. “I went through a five-year undergraduate bachelor of architecture program at Cooper Union, and I never once heard of Paul Rudolph.
“Rudolph’s government and civic projects may be among his most important, but the range of his career is staggering—including super-lush New York City interiors people never got to know and see,” said Khorsandi. “People like to categorize him as a Brutalist, but he had many phases and was very multifaceted, including prefab, urbanism, interior design, and glass-and-steel towers in Asia.
“He, in many ways, was the last modernist and became a fall guy for Modernism as Post-Modernism ascended. There has been an overabundance of attention on projects that were torn down,” said Khorsandi.
Heightened Awareness, Increased Preservation
It’s not hard to see the connection between a reconsideration of Rudolph and the demolition threats faced by some of his projects. He has become a preservation cause, for sure, but a particularly challenging one due to market forces or, in other cases, failing structure or deteriorating materials. Two of the three public schools Rudolph designed are now gone: Sarasota’s Riverview High School, built in 1958, was torn down in 2009, and the Chorley Elementary School in Middletown, N.Y., built in 1964, was demolished in 2013.
In 2007, Rudolph’s residential oeuvre was diminished with the destruction of three homes: the 1979 Louis Micheels House in Westport, Conn., the oceanfront 1956 Cerrito House in Watch Hill, R.I., and the Twitchell House in Siesta Key, Fla. The destruction of all three is documented in Chris Mottlaini’s revelatory photo essay, After You Left/They Took It Apart (Demolished Paul Rudolph Homes).
But the tide may be turning. On January 5, 2015, Randolph’s sole surviving public school, Sarasota High School (Image 7), reopened for the first time since 2009 to nearly 2,000 returning students. Built in 1959 without air conditioning or modern security systems, Rudolph’s aging school was part of a $42 million campus restoration effort that preserved the iconic roofline and façade while taking Rudolph’s structure down to the studs before rebuilding the interiors.
“The construction team put it back as close as we could from an exterior point of view to Rudolph’s original building,” said Paul Pitcher, project manager, Construction Services Department, Sarasota County Schools. “You will hear people say that we destroyed the inside of the building, but we are here to support students and we saved the building. Given the asbestos abatement and what it took to get the building back to where it needed to be, we will have spent more on this building than if we had just knocked it down and built a new building.”
Elsewhere, restoration of the interiors as well as the exterior mosaic patterned sunscreens that envelope the Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College (1958) (Image 8) has been completed. Executed from 1955 to 1958, the arts center was Rudolph’s first significant project outside Florida—a commission he received over other better-known contemporaries at the time such as Eero Saarinen and Edward Durell Stone.
Following widespread preservation protests, Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, once on the chopping block, has been saved but stands mostly vacant—at least for now. UMass Dartmouth’s campus, which contains 16 of Rudolph’s best buildings, now operates the website Paul Rudolph & His Architecture that chronicles his work and offers some perspective on preserving not just a suite of buildings, but an individual talent’s legacy.
New Generation, New Appreciation
Today, a new generation of architects and design enthusiasts are paying homage to Rudolph in both word and deed.
“I grew up around the Umbrella House” said Florida native Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, principal at Brooks + Scarpa. “The Umbrella House (Image 9) was built in 1953 [in Sarasota]. Air conditioning existed, yet Rudolph shaded the house with an umbrella canopy, buying tomato sticks from local farmers to construct the slats. It is so ahead of its time—not just in its beauty but in the way it coexists with nature.
“When I built my own Solar Umbrella House [in Venice Beach, Calif.], Rudolph’s Umbrella House was my inspiration,” Scarpa explained. “Like the original, it has proper orientation, shading, and cross-ventilation. But it also has 80 solar panels, and the solar canopy is part of the architecture. Our utility bill is less than $500 a year. When I start projects, I look for historical precedents, and I always wind up in the 1950s and ’60s. It was a magical time of new technologies and building thinking.”
Susan Harkavy grew up three blocks away from the Umbrella House in a two-bedroom house on Lido Shores in Sarasota, Fla., that Rudolph designed in 1957. (Image 10) She returned decades later for a visit and encountered a sympathetic addition that expanded the original structure, which remained mostly intact. Memories flooded back on how the house changed her life.
“When I got to college, I found myself veering towards European modern art history classes and I didn’t know why,” said Harkavy, who now lives in New York City.
“I went to Yale—which of course had so much Gothic architecture—and I didn’t realize it but the house where I had lived for 18 years had seeped into my being, and I just felt like Modernism was home. When I started my own business, the clients I chose were all modernists. I ended up writing a letter to the editor of Interiors magazine after it had done a four-page story on the renovation of the Umbrella House, about how Rudolph had charted my career direction.”
“I didn’t learn anything about Paul Rudolph in architecture school,” said Joyce Owens, AIA, who is now using his original drawings to help re-create a full-scale replica of Rudolph’s first solo commission—the 1953 Walker Guest House (Image 11)—in a project spearheaded by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.
The house, which still stands on Sanibel Island, Fla., will be duplicated exactly from Rudolph’s original drawings as a kit of parts, so visitors can tour it later this year on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art, and in other venues in the future.
“For various reasons, Paul Rudolph was dealt a bad deal at some point. This is my way to help restore his legacy,” Owens said.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of Paul Rudolph’s birth, in 2018, projects like the Walker Guest House, along with increased scholarship and preservation, are painting a new place in modern architectural history for a designer committed to teaching and practice, and driven by a consistent vision to improve and reinvent. He showed the world that Modernism is so much more than a steel and glass box.
Mike Singer is a frequent contributor to AIArchitect.
Veteran Sarasota architects reunite for inaugural mid-century design festival on Florida Modernism
By Mike Singer
Gene Leedy, FAIA, started his career as Paul Rudolph’s first employee in the mid-century master’s Sarasota office when it opened in the 1950s. Decades later, at the 1982 AIA Florida annual conference in Tampa, Leedy coined the phrase “Sarasota School” to frame a special sort of design ethos that Rudolph’s firm spearheaded.
“In those days, they used to refer to the architects in Chicago as the ‘Chicago School,’ so I called us the ‘Sarasota School,’ and it stuck,” he says.
Leedy, now 86, returned to Sarasota last month, joining four other AIA fellows, all now in their 70s and 80s, who recalled the Sarasota School’s bright lights—Victor Lundy, FAIA; Paul Rudolph, FAIA; Ralph Twitchell, FAIA; and other Modernist pioneers—and their impact on the subtropical Gulf Coast of Florida, as part of the city’s first-ever SarasotaMOD Weekend, a four-day celebration of mid-century design.
“During the 1950s, Sarasota was probably the greatest place in the world to be an architect,” Leedy said. “To me, it was like Paris after World War I.”
Tropical Modernism and Trying Times
Today, Sarasota’s community preservation leaders are capitalizing on the city’s rich architectural legacy with renewed vigor. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation, SarasotaMOD’s sponsor, hopes the festival will deepen public understanding of an important regional center of Modernism—this year and in subsequent years—and propel architectural tourism and preservation.
From an alfresco dinner at Rudolph’s Sanderling Beach Club (Image 1) to tours by trolley, boat, and foot around Siesta Key and Lido Shores, design enthusiasts got a rare chance to tour privately owned mid-century gems and learn how a town with fewer than 25,000 residents in the 1950s became a hot-bed of Modernism.
“A more informed, motivated and stimulated audience will ultimately result in a better built environment—one that is both respectful of our buildings and our history,” said Carl Abbott, FAIA, chair of SarasotaMOD. “As lovely and architecturally significant as Sarasota is, many of our own mid-century buildings face enormous [preservation] challenges.”
If those challenges can be boiled down to some critical factors, certainly the long-term effects of climate on materials are on that list, as are the technical aspects of maintaining and restoring older Sarasota buildings. Above all, however, those things are made easier by widespread public awareness—not only of important local architectural legacies, but also stewardship of physical buildings and important design principles exemplified by those buildings.
SarasotaMOD panelist John Howey, FAIA, interviewed 22 architects active in the school, from 1941–1966, almost two decades ago for his book The Sarasota School of Architecture (MIT Press, 1997). In the book, he outlines five key principles advanced by Rudolph—largely adopted from Walter Gropius at Harvard—for what a regional school of architecture could mean.
“Clarity of construction, maximum economy of means, simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally, clear geometry floating above the Florida landscape, and honesty in details and in structural connections,” recalls Howey, “are the guiding principles of the Sarasota School.” Howey, 88, continues to utilize those principles in his Tampa-based practice.
“What happened here in Sarasota was very unique,” says Abbott, 78, a former student of Rudolph’s at Yale University whose work such as the Putterman House (1986, Image 2) continues to draw from the native Kentuckian’s formal experiments in massing and in section.
For Abbott, though, the Sarasota School represents two distinct influences that made it a unique expression of modern architecture: Rudolph and that of Ralph Twitchell, an Ohioan who opened his Sarasota office in 1936 and hired a 23-year-old Rudolph, fresh out of Auburn University, in 1941.
“There were two places in the world where both the Bauhaus School and the Organic School took root together,” says Abbott. “One was in Los Angeles and the other was here in Sarasota. Rudolph studied under Gropius at Harvard, and Ralph Twitchell favored the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Together, Twitchell and Rudolph designed two important projects before Rudolph’s departure for graduate school at Harvard: their catenary-roofed Healy Guest House and the lattice-encased Umbrella House (Image 3, Image 4). Both projects received positive reviews in the architectural magazines of the day. Upon Rudolph’s return to Sarasota, the two architects formed Twitchell & Rudolph in 1946, a firm that had a productive five-year run before disbanding in 1951.
“Many people don’t know this, but Rudolph was a great merchant,” said Leedy. “He gave the magazines a little package with his beautiful drawings, a story, the whole ball of wax—all they had to do was sign their name to it. Paul made it so easy for all of them.”
Widespread publicity about the early Twitchell-Rudolph experiments attracted other young architects.
Frank Folsom Smith, FAIA, took a leave from his architectural studies at the University of Virginia in the late 1950s to apprentice with Sarasota’s other rising architectural star, Victor Lundy, FAIA, for $75 a week. But, as Smith reports, Lundy and Rudolph were never friendly, despite being classmates in graduate school.
“I always thought about Paul Rudolph and Victor Lundy as fire and ice—because Paul was cool and Victor was hot,” said Smith. “Victor was much more competitive [than Rudolph] and an excellent mentor. He could sit down and start a drawing on butcher paper, never miss a stroke, and end up with a design. He’d hand it to me and say ‘draw this.’”
For Smith, “this” included two landmark buildings: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church complex and the Waldman Building (Image 5, Image 6).
Edward “Tim” Seibert, FAIA, was just 25 in 1953, and a draftsman for Paul Rudolph, when he designed the stilt-raised Hiss Studio (Image 7). Philip Hiss, a visionary Sarasota developer and modern design advocate, sold Lido Shores properties from the office Seibert’s firm designed—including the speculative Umbrella House designed by Rudolph next door.
“I opened my own office in 1955, and for about a dozen years I lived in an architect’s paradise, although I didn’t realize this at the time,” Seibert, a panelist at SarasotaMOD, recalled. “I thought it must be like this everywhere. Sarasota abounded then in people who understood a new architecture, and wanted to be part of it.”
Today, however, the question is: How can preservationists encourage Sarasotans to see that once-new architecture as part of their futures?
Preservation and Expansion: Sarasota’s New Frontier
Sarasota has seen the same rapid growth and development as other Sun Belt cities, and preservation has not always been the rule of the land. Rudolph’s Riverview High School, completed in 1958 (the year he left to accept the deanship at the Yale School of Architecture) and the center of strong local preservation support, was razed in 2009 to make way for a parking lot (Image 8).
“The Building Itself Teaches,” the current exhibit at the Sarasota County Visitor Information Center and History Center Museum, tells the story of nine public schools constructed when Hiss served on the Sarasota Board of Public Instruction from 1953–1960. Hiss’s leadership transformed the county’s public educational environment, marrying modernist design with progressive pedagogy and setting a precedent for school design in postwar America.
Schools featured open floor plans and movable partitions and furniture that allowed for team teaching. “A lot of ideas that are common now about students working with other students, kids teaching kids, team teaching,” said Lorrie Muldowney, Assoc. AIA, manager of the Sarasota County History Center, in an opening-night speech at SarasotaMOD, “and these concepts informed the designs of schools such as Englewood Elementary by Jack West.”
Jack West, FAIA, who worked for Twitchell and Rudolph, started his own firm in 1951, and ultimately formed West and Conyers/Architects and Engineers in 1966, which he led through the 1990s.
Today, only four of the nine schools commissioned by Hiss still stand. However, in a major preservation victory, the façade of Rudolph’s Sarasota High School, 1958, is now undergoing restoration as part of a $42 million campus overhaul (Image 9). Jonathan Parks, AIA, principal and founder of Jonathan Parks Architect, an 11-person firm based in Sarasota, helped guide restoration efforts. Other pioneering schools on the other hand, such as Jack West’s Englewood Elementary School, have been demolished.
Elsewhere in Sarasota, the University of Florida recently launched CityLab-Sarasota, which is on track to offer an M.Arch degree program in the coming year. In a city that never had a school of architecture, Sarasota School examples will become a living lab for graduate students. The new academic program will be housed in a former 1960s furniture showroom designed by Sarasota School modernist William Rupp, AIA, and share the space with the Center for Architecture Sarasota, which opened in 2013.
Even Rudolph’s first solo commission, the Walker Guest House (Image 10), will live on in a new context. While the original, privately owned home still stands in nearby Sanibel Island, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation plans to reconstruct it on the grounds of Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art and ultimately take it on the road as a traveling kit of parts and mobile education studio.
“This is a very unusual ‘preservation’ project because we are building fresh from scratch, from the original drawings,” says Joe King, a Sarasota architect, co-author of Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), and construction manager for the Walker Guest House reconstruction.
Once completed, the 580-square-foot house will be installed on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, where attendees to SarasotaMOD in 2015 will have the opportunity to tour it, learn about Rudolph’s use of jalousie windows, and experience period furniture and fixings.
“[The client] Elaine Walker is very enthusiastic about the project and wants it to travel to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis after its run at the Ringling,” says Joyce Owens, AIA, who moderated a panel at this year’s event and helped guide the reconstruction plans based on Rudolph’s original drawings. “After all, it was always one of Paul Rudolph’s favorite buildings.”
Decades may have passed, but the legacy of Rudolph and his trailblazing contemporaries still shines brightly in this southwestern Florida city.
Mike Singer is a frequent contributor to AIArchitect.
Photos shown above: Image 1: The Sanderling Beach Club cabanas, 1952, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, were Paul Rudolph’s first major non-residential project. Photo by Jenny Acheson. Image 2: Putterman House, 1986, designed by Carl Abbott. Abbott studied under Rudolph at Yale and used his mentor's guiding principles of “simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally” in this monolithic street façade. Photo by Steven Brooke. Image 3: Healy Guest House, aka the Cocoon House, 1950, designed by Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell. Notable for its cantilevered roof and water bank overhang, the house generated widespread national publicity for the two. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 4: Umbrella House, 1953, designed by Paul Rudolph. The home's original umbrella latticework was blown away in a 1996 hurricane and replaced in 2008. Photo by Bill Miller. Image 5: St. Paul's Lutheran Church (Fellowship Hall 1959, Sanctuary 1968), designed by Victor Lundy. With a soaring roof suspended by steel cables, the church's simple exterior encloses a sculpturally curved wooden ceiling. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 6: Waldman Building, 1958, designed by Victor Lundy. It once served as a studio in which the dancers appeared to roadside observers as suspended in space. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 7: Hiss Studio, 1953, designed by Edward J. "Tim" Seibert. A glass box raised on 14 slender steel columns, this was the 1950s sales office where developer Philip Hiss sold his Lido Shores modernist houses. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 8: Riverview High School, 1959, designed by Paul Rudolph. Designed in the International Style, Rudolph's first public high school building was torn down in 2009 following a highly contentious preservation battle. Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources. Image 9: Sarasota High School Addition, 1960, designed by Paul Rudolph. Rudolph's last project in Sarasota, the exterior of the building is being restored and the interior repurposed as part of a $42 million rebuild of the Sarasota High School campus. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 10: Walker Guest House, 1952, designed by Paul Rudolph. Rudolph's last project in Sarasota, the exterior of the building is being restored and the interior repurposed as part of a $42 million rebuild of the Sarasota High School campus. Photo by Greg Wilson.