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Architect Max Strang interprets ‘old-school’ ideas for a new era

By Harold Bubil, real estate editor, Herald-Tribune

Max Strang, a Winter Haven native who made his architectural reputation in Miami,

Max Strang

Max Strang, FAIA, Photo ©Scott Rhea

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.

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The Sarasota Architectural Foundation presented a lecture by Strang, titled “The Evolution of Florida Modernism,” on Wednesday in the Alfred Goldstein Library at Ringling College of Art + Design.

“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.

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Raingarden Lofts, [STRANG] Architects, Winter Haven, Florida – Photo ©Claudio Manzoni


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.

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Tuckman Residence, [STRANG] Architects, Ft Lauderdale, Florida, 2017

“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

Tour Five Midcentury Modern Houses in Venice, Florida

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December 11, 2016
1:00 to 4:00 PM
5 homes for $40
Buy Advance Tickets Online 

Join the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) for a self-guided tour of five midcentury modern homes in historic Venice, Florida.

Advance ticket holders may begin the tour at any of the houses on the list and receive a wristband and tour map. On December 11th, limited tickets will be available from 1 to 3 PM at 425 S. Nassau Street only.

Questions: info@SAF-SRQ.org, 941-364-2119

#1
535 Serata Street (1947) 

Magee House
Architect/builder Christopher Magee

Magee had worked under Frank Lloyd Wright building Florida Southern College, yet this house shows more influence of the German Bauhaus movement.

#2
425 S. Nassau Street (1959)

Renovated 2015
Featured in Atomic Ranch Magazine’s Renovation Issue, Summer 2016
Renovation architect: Jon Barrick
Builder: Rob Dynan Construction
Landscape design: Dane Spencer

#3
512 Valencia Road (1956)

Renovated 2008 − 2010
Architect/builder Jack Bailey
Renovation architect: Greg Hall, AIA, LEED, AP, Principle, Hall Architects, PA

#4
616 Valencia Road (1953)
Hudson House
Architect: Ralph Twitchell

#5
500 Sante Joseph Street (1955)

Renovated 2009
Architect: Jack Monteith
Photo shown above by David Ortins

 

Holmes Honored for Design Excellence

Article from Tampa Bay Newspapers, Wednesday July 25, 2012

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Indian Rocks Beach architect Dwight E. Holmes FAIA, is one of 23 recipients of the American Institute of Architects Award of Honor for Design who were honored at the annual AIA Florida Honor and Design Awards reception and dinner July 21, 2012 at the Breakers Palm Beach.

Through the high quality and originality of their work, by advancing the value and public awareness of good architecture over an extended period of time, and by their leadership, Holmes and the other honorees have provided an inspiration to their colleagues and others. This award is the highest award for design that the AIA can bestow on one of its members.

Holmes and his son, Scott, have just completed an addition to the Indian Rocks Beach Historical Museum. They are working on renovations to Indian Rocks Beach City Hall and they are involved in other city projects.

Don’t miss:
Thursday December 13, 2012
SAF Lecture: Architect Dwight E. Holmes, FAIA Retrospective
Sarasota Herald Tribune, Community Room
1714 Main Street, Sarasota, FL
2 AIA CEUs available through AIA Gulfcoast Chapter

Click to Pay Online
SAF Member $10
Non-Member $15
Questions, RSVP info@saf-srq.org

5 – 5:30pm Check-in
5:30 – 7pm Lecture, Q&A
7 – 8pm Reception

Top Ten Ways to Identify Local Mid-Century Architecture

Reprinted from the November 12, 2011 Ft Myers News- Press article
By Joyce Owens AIA, RIBA

  1. Exuberant Shapes: Buildings took on flexible profiles using swooping roofs, extended cantilevers and curved walls while residential buildings were often characterized by rambling horizontal forms with flat or low sloping roofs.
  2. Abandoned Symmetry: Most often asymmetrical, these progressive buildings are in complete contrast to the designs of the past. Instead they relied on balance, proportion and scale to outwardly communicate the function of space within. The slope of the roof is expressed both inside and out creating novel interior spaces and allowing buildings to be read from the outside — higher roofs and therefore higher ceilings imply public space while lower roofs identify more private spaces like bedrooms or bathrooms.
  3. Innovative Construction: Traditional load-bearing walls of the past were abandoned. Post and beam construction, which supports horizontal beams by means of vertical posts of thin steel or wood columns, replaced traditional construction thanks to longer beams and stronger columns. Thus, external walls could be made of glass.
  4. Lightness of Being: Extensive expanses of glass, louvers and/or screens were used in these sizeable openings, giving the mid-century structures a remarkable lightness. Doors were often sliding and windows often jalousie, permitting natural breezes to ventilate the interiors. These openings could be located in a building according to the interior function and the requirements of the occupant — as opposed to the rigid rules of traditional styles.
  5. Climate Survival by Passive Design: The orientation on the site avoided direct sunlight and made use of shade to reduced heat gain, and ventilation was encouraged to keep air cool. The shape of the building was critical in controlling airflow, and deep overhangs in a variety of shapes provided shade to large glass openings below and protection from tropical downpours. By incorporating these simple rules of passive design it was possible to live and work in south Florida without air conditioning.
  6. Flowing Floor Plans: Open spaces were the norm — low walls or screens that never touch the ceiling, made of a variety of materials, defined space without enclosing rooms. That contributed to air movement and increased the space perception.
  7. Privacy Principles: Privacy from the street side was common. Small windows faced the road and buildings often featured a private entry hall or courtyard. But once inside buildings became more transparent, often with considerable openings at the back, framing views overlooking the water, an outdoor patio for entertaining or simply, a well-manicured backyard.
  8. Exterior Motives: The relationship with the outdoors was paramount. Not only did large openings blur the relationship between the inside and out, but this seamless transition reinforced the relationship with the landscape as well. Houses, in particular, were small but by opening out to paved patios, screened porches and courtyards, essential well-loved living space was created.
  9. Material Integrity: Buildings were fresh and original, taking advantage of new materials and new technology, as well as new construction methods. Materials were honest: terrazzo floors, decorative brick or stacked concrete block, exposed timber structure or wood paneling – not painted or covered but left bare. And for the first time materials passed from inside to out – further emphasizing the ambiguity between the interior and exterior.
  10. Great light, Cool spaces: Natural light was indirect — a result of carefully planning the orientation of the building combined with deep overhangs. Loads of daylight came in but never direct sunlight. The light source of artificial lights was indirect as well, often hidden in coves or above cabinets bouncing light up to the ceilings and subtly washing walls.

Ft Myers News- Press article by Joyce Owens, AIA, RIBA link
Mid-Century Modern in Southwest Florida (MCMO) website