Walker Guest House Replica Docents

SAF's Docent Volunteers

SAF wishes to thank the more than 60 docent volunteer who have led daily tours of architect Paul Rudolph’s iconic beach house for the past 18 months. Join us for the Closing Party at the Replica on Sunday, April 30th from 2 to 5 PM. Free admission, cash bar. With special guest speakers, house tours, vintage fashion show and a music and dance performance premier. Please RSVP

Enjoy the wonderful photos by Jenny Acheson.

Remaking Rudolph

Sarasota Architectural Foundation takes its mission to the streets with this traveling replica of the Walker Guest House.

Remaking Rudolph

After more than two years of planning,fundraising and construction, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s Walker Guest House Replica made its triumphant debut on the grounds of The Ringling Museum on November 6, 2015, showcasing the ingenuity and design of acclaimed architect Paul Rudolph in his early Sarasota days and affording architecture fans everywhere the chance to experience a Rudolph space firsthand. Within the first two months, more than 9,000 visitors answered the call.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: 1950’s Caloric CP Gas Range.

“Paul Rudolph is definitely a name Sarasota and its visitors should know,” says SAF Board Chair Janet Minker. As a defining part of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Rudolph was instrumental in bringing the region into focus during the midcentury modern movement, using broader design principles to fashion singularly Floridian creations such as the Umbrella House on Lido Shores and the Sarasota High School extension. Enlisting the local arts scene to help fund a recreation of one of the artist’s more hidden accomplishments came easily, says Minker, recounting a chilly January morning driving Ringling Executive Director Stephen High out to Sanibel Island to see the original Walker Guest House. “That really sold him on the whole project and we were able to continue.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: The Walker Guest House is also known as the Cannonball House because of the eight counterweight balls, painted red, that raise and lower the large, wooden window shutters.

“Rudolph was an innovator, a very creative architect,” agrees Joe King, the architect tasked with figuring out how to build Rudolph’s design anew. A 24-by-24-foot interior space, the small size belies the architect’s ability, using novel design elements such as the floor-to-ceiling screened openings and minimal room separation to enlarge the space. In the absence of solid walls, wall-sized shutters hinge at the roof, to be raised or lowered according to the owner’s needs or preferences. Left to gravity, they balance at mid-level, exhibiting no architectural bias toward privacy or publicity. “Rudolph is characteristic of a very disciplined design,” he says, “a very orderly way that is used to make architectural space coherent and intentional.” Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the complex but precise rigging system controlling the shutters with pulleys, cleated ropes and red bobbing counterweights. “Even though it’s rational and clear,” King says, “there’s always a sense of mystery—‘How does it work?’” 

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: A Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio and books from 1952 reside in the Paul Rudolph-designed bookcase recreated by cabinetmaker Dale Rieke.

The recreation was “challenging,” King admits, but with Rudolph’s original blueprints for reference and measurements and photographs from the original for comparison, the project went smoothly. Construction took only about six months, ending in October, and the hardest part seemed to be finding appropriate materials, such as wooden beams for the outriggers and proper ropes and counterweights for the rigging. Three-strand polyester rope may be out of vogue now, but “that was the latest and greatest in 1952,” reminds King. Unable to find the desired spherical red counterweights, the project resorted to fastening two steel hemispheres with a bolt and using epoxy and other materials to recreate the proper 8-inch diameter.

The crew only actively deviated from Rudolph’s design in two important ways, each angled at allowing a greater number of people to enjoy the project. Creating an exhibit instead of a habitable living space, the bathroom was removed in favor of a lift, making the exhibit handicap-accessible. And looking to make the exhibit a traveling one, the replica was created to be easily broken down, transported and then rebuilt, with King crafting custom-made palettes for just such purpose. Already put to the test, the replica was first constructed in Manatee County before being brought to the Ringling grounds, where it was reassembled without a hitch. With the replica residing on Ringling grounds until October* this year, Minker and SAF already look to the next stop, in talks with such places as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. “People are intrigued,” she says. “Architecture is getting its due in recent years.” [*Editors Note: The Ringling Museum extended the Replica’s stay until April 30, 2017. Over 59,000 visitors have toured the house since opening on November 6, 2015 during SarasotaMOD Weekend.]

Every Item Tells a Story – Sourcing the Furnishings

REBUILDING IS ONE THING AND REFURNISHING QUITE ANOTHER, as Dan Snyder can attest. Using interior photographs from a 1953 magazine shoot by architectural photographer Ezra Stoller for guidance, Snyder and his SAF team have done their best to replicate the interior design with the same exactitude as the architecture. With doggedness and a wee bit of luck, Snyder searched the globe (and the internet) for just the right items to recapture the Walker Guest House in its original 1950s décor. 

Biggest Change Flooring  Gone are the grey linoleum floors, replaced by painted plywood. “We tried to get it,” says Snyder, “but it’s out of production.”

That Wasn’t So Hard  Pole Lamp circa 1953 Snyder thought this one would be tough, singling it out immediately when asked. The fashion of the time, he says, favored floor-to-ceiling setups, making the model in the Stoller photos outside the norm. But a quick stop to see a friend at Braden River Antiques in Bradenton was all it took. Snyder told him what he was looking for, “and he thought for five minutes,” recounts Snyder, before heading into the back and returning with the lamp. “Just like that.”

Time Stands Still  Deck Chairs  “They still make the same chairs,” Snyder says. They used to call them “director’s chairs,” he says, but the same upstate New York company that made the chairs in the original Walker House all those years ago, Telescope, still makes those same chairs. The only real difference is that the older models had rubber knobs on the feet, “like the rubber tips of a cane.”

SOMETHINGS GOTTEN IN DENMARK CERAMIC BOWL  An interesting item, but not so much for its relationship to Rudolph or Walker as that with Stoller, and how it seems to pop up in so many of his photos. “Because he had a station wagon,” says Snyder, “he carried props around in the trunk.” Without much of a lead, Snyder put out the call to his friends, attaching the images. One responded from Copenhagen, purchasing a piece from Danish ceramicist Ditte Fischer that fit the bill and donating it to the project, along with a Danish candleholder designed in 1962 by Mogens Lassen. Neither is identical to the items in the Stoller photograph, admits Snyder. “It’s the same spirit.”

INDIGENOUS LOCAL PRIDE Not one to limit himself to architecture, Rudolph designed all of the furniture in the main room—excepting the chairs—himself, including a table, bookcase, daybed and cocktail table. To recreate these one-of-a-kind furnishings, Snyder turned to local artisan cabinetmaker Dale Rieke, who, after measuring and sketching the originals on Sanibel Island and paired with a local metalworker, crafted them anew. Snyder accents the mise-en-scene with period-appropriate Time and Fortune magazines, an ashtray with a few L&M butts and flowers from his own garden. “And all the magazines are from 1952,” he assures me. “Incredible covers.”

ONLINE AUCTIONEERS EBAY  Snyder’s search through EBay helped him bring in items as wide-ranging as an Egyptian-themed wall-quilt to the surprisingly plentiful Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio. He found the desk designed by Paul McCobb, identical to the desk from the Stoller photograph, as well as the Lettera 22 typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1954, complete with carrying case, that sits upon it. But the biggest catch has to be the General Electric refrigerator, circa 1948, found from a seller in Connecticut. 

Industrial Comfort

A look inside Paul Rudolph’s masterfully crafted Harkavy House.

Mid-Century Perfection

Visit the Walker Guest House on the grounds of The 
Ringling Museum to see a tiny house with minimalist design.

By Louise Bolger | Anna Maria Sun Newspaper staff writer

Beach houses started out as a way to live simply, stay close to nature and block out the stressful world. But beach houses, like so many other mid-century concepts, have evolved and not necessarily in a good way.

The architect Paul Rudolph developed a reputation for designing mid-century modernist residential homes, many in Sarasota and the surrounding area, featuring geometric forms and dynamic interiors influenced by the Bauhaus School of Design. In 1952 he designed and built a true beach house for Dr. Walter Walker on a piece of property on Sanibel Island. The Walker Guest House, as it is known, is unique in many ways, and its tiny house minimalist design is a teaching moment in what relaxed living really is.

The house is 576 square feet and measures 24 by 24, with a combination of screens and glass walls that can be covered with plywood panels operated on a counterweight system fitting together like a puzzle. Rudolph was a naval architect who used that experience in the Walker house design; he even uses boat cleats inside the house to tie off the wood panels when they were in the raised position.

The interior of the house is a flow of space with one bedroom and one bath, an open living

Walker Guest House Replica

SAF’s Walker Guest House Replica is open daily, free admission on the grounds of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art with SAF Docent-led tours. Photo © Anton Grassl/Esto

area and galley kitchen. The structure is elevated off the ground and is compared to a crouching spider in the sand. Rudolph said, “With all of the panels lowered the house is a snug cottage, but when the panels are raised it becomes a large screened pavilion.”
I happen to know about this wonderful one of a kind house because I attended a lecture at the Ringling Museum regarding Paul Rudolph and specifically the Walker Guest House and subsequently toured a duplicate of the home on the museum grounds.

The duplicate at Ringling is the exact size and structure as the original, and except for a few interior modifications, is identical to the Walker property, which I believe still exists on Sanibel Island. I also learned at the lecture that this modern home was one of Paul Rudolph’s favorite projects.

I found this to be an educational experience and encourage anyone who is interested in home design to take a ride over to the Ringling and walk through the house. It is a fun and interactive experience that you can participate in through April of next year without paying an entrance fee to the museum. Paul Rudolph died in 1997, but thanks to the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and The Ringling Museum, one of his iconic projects continues to be an inspiration.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about mid-century design in homes, and indeed Anna Maria Island has many homes built in the 1950s. Hopefully some of these properties will survive and retain their beach house character and mid-century values. In the meantime, you can always check out the “crouching spider in the sand,” an elegant tiny house.

More information, visit SAF-SRQ.org/WalkerGuestHouse

Revisiting Paul Rudolph

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Image 1: Paul Rudolph overlooking the drafting room of his Yale Art & Architecture Building (now Rudolph Hall), where he served as dean to an influential generation of postwar modernists. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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.

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Image 2: Yale’s Art & Architecture Building, dedicated in 1963 and rededicated as Rudolph Hall in 2008, marked the first appearance of the corrugated concrete walls that became Rudolph’s signature. Photo: Derr Scutt, courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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: Healy Guest House, aka Cocoon House, on Sarasota’s Siesta Key, 1948. Notable for its cantilevered roof and water bank overhang, the house generated widespread national publicity for Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell. Photo by Greg Wilson.

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.

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Image 4: Customized fluted concrete blocks were used in Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center, Goshen, N.Y. (1963–71), which narrowly escaped recent demolition attempts. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

“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.”

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Image 5: Bold expressive concrete statements at Endo Laboratories, Garden City, Long Island, N.Y., 1960–64; a national real estate investment firm bought the property in 2005, renovating its interiors for use by a variety of tenants. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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.

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Image 6: In the 1980s, Rudolph found work mostly in Asia, where his first completed project was the 27-floor Colonnade Condominium in Singapore, shown here under construction in 1980. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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).

SHS Dec 2014_2

Image 7: Rudolph’s sole surviving public school, Sarasota High School (1958), reopened in January 2015 after an extensive renovation that preserved the building’s iconic façade. Photo by Janet Minker.

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.”

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Image 8: Rudolph was a master pen-and-ink draftsman, as shown in this 1956 perspective rendering for Wellesley College’s Jewett Arts Center, his first major commission outside of Florida. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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.

Umbrella House restored Photo Bill Miller

Image 9: The lattice-encased Umbrella House, built in Sarasota, Fla., in 1953, is the inspiration for Larry Scarpa’s, FAIA, own solar-powered umbrella house. Photo by Bill Miller.

“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.”

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Image 10: The Harkavy House, 1957, on Lido Shores in Sarasota, Fla., where Susan Harkavy grew up. Photo: Ezra Stoller.

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.”

Stoller_WalkerGuestHouse

Image 11: Walker Guest House, Sanibel Island, Fla., is Rudolph’s first solo commission and will be duplicated and installed on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota this fall to increase public awareness of Rudolph as the centennial of his birth approaches in 2018. Photo: Ezra Stoller.

“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.

Sarasota School Reunion

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 Carl Abbott Quote_SAF2Abbott, 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.