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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

SarasotaMod Weekend Nov. 6 – 9

Umbrella House

The Umbrella House in Lido Shores, designed by architect Paul Rudolph in 1953. Photo by Bill Miller.

Sarasota High School

Sarasota High School designed by architect Paul Rudolph in 1958 and restored by the Sarasota School Board in 2015. Photo by Dan Snyder.

July 17, 2015
By Harold Bubil
harold.bubil@heraldtribune.com

It will be “all Paul, all the time” at the second SarasotaMOD, Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s celebration of midcentury modern architecture.

The focus of the Nov. 6-9 event is the architectural legacy of Paul Rudolph, who started his career here and designed such notable buildings as the Umbrella House, Riverview High School and an addition to Sarasota High School, all in the 1950s, before becoming dean of architecture at Yale University and expanding his influence globally.

Rudolph will be the subject of lectures, dinners, parties and tours on foot and by trolley.

Walker Guest House Replica

A replica of the 1952 Paul Rudolph designed Walker Guest House will be featured at SarasotaMOD Weekend. Illustration by John Pirman.

The highlight of the weekend is the opening of the Walker Guest House replica on the grounds of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. SAF, with the help of architect Joyce Owens of Fort Myers and builder-architect Joe King of Bradenton, has constructed a replica of Rudolph’s famous 1952 Sanibel Island beach cottage. It will be displayed for 11 months at The Ringling, and can be disassembled and shipped to other museums as an educational exhibit on midcentury living and design concepts.

Notable speakers include Los Angeles architect Larry Scarpa and Rudolph scholars and authors Joe King, Christopher Domin, Roberto de Alba and Timothy Rohan; the latter wrote a definitive book on Rudolph in 2014, “The Architecture of Paul Rudolph”. Also speaking is Erica Stoller, daughter of Ezra Stoller, whose large format, black- and- white photographs of Rudolph’s buildings in the 1950s brought both men worldwide acclaim.

SarasotaMOD_logo draftsC. Ford Peatross, founding director of the architectural archive at the Library of Congress, will moderate a panel discussion on Rudolph’s legacy. While the architect is known for his delicate beach houses on Lido and Siesta keys, he also was a leader in the use of raw concrete to monumental effect in public buildings,starting with Sarasota High, continuing with the Yale Art & Architecture building, and continuing in Southeast Asia with high rise residential buildings. This style is known as Brutalism.

Several houses designed by Rudolph will be open for dinners and cocktail parties. Walking tours of Lido Shores, where Rudolph drew a number of houses for developer Phil Hiss, will be conducted by Christopher Wilson, Architecture and Design History professor at Ringling College and SAF board member, and the Herald-Tribune’s Harold Bubil.

The event closes on Monday, Nov. 9, with a bus tour of St. Petersburg’s architectural highlights, led by Bubil. Other presenters include Sarasota architect Carl Abbott, Tampa architect and author of “The Sarasota School of Architecture” John Howey, architect Tim Seibert, Sean Khorsandi of the Paul Rudolph Foundation and Miami Herald architecture critic Alastair Gordon.

“It will be important to talk about architecture as an art form,” said King. “Rudolph’s work, as a leader in Sarasota modernism, is so strong that people will gain a good feeling of that. The cultural and historical context of Rudolph in Florida will help people, especially in Sarasota, know and understand more about the place they live, and that is always a good thing — to be engaged with the community.”

Tickets go on sale August 14 at SarasotaMod.com.

Sarasota Through the Eyes of One of Its Most Outspoken Architects

The Florida city would be a much different place without Tim Seibert and the Sarasota School of Architecture.

By Debra Bruno
The Atlantic, CityLab

The Siesta Key House, architect Tim Seibert, photo by Larry Reinebach

The Siesta Key House, architect Tim Seibert, photo by Larry Reinebach

Picture a one-story wooden house shaped more or less like a box, situated along a Florida canal. Its living space opens to the outside, with wide glass doors, louvered blinds, and a glass roof covering an unadorned grass patio. Basically, Frank Lloyd Wright goes to the beach.

While that simple home on Siesta Key near Sarasota no longer exists, its designer, and one of the original members of the Sarasota School of Architecture, is very much around.

Tim Seibert, 87, helped to create what is today known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, a modernist mid-century style that makes the most of south Florida’s humid subtropical climate.

Sarasota would be a very different place without the influence of the Sarasota modernists, says Dr. Christopher Wilson, architecture and design historian at Ringling College of Art + Design and board member of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. And while most scholars credit architects like Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell as founders of the school, Seibert “wins the longevity award,” says Wilson. His first home was built when he was 25 and he worked up until his 80s.

Seibert also stands out today because he isn’t shy about speaking out. In the new documentary “The Seibert Effect” by filmmaker and retired Chicago engineer Larry Reinebach, Seibert talks about designing condominiums that were “more like a resort and less like a place to put old people.” He told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Sarasota’s downtown Bayfront area was an example of “cultural indigestion.”

About the site of his former home on Siesta Key, he said, “Siesta looks the way it does because so many members of the old Sarasota establishment sold their land out to developers and got big bucks.”

There’s a good deal of truth to that: Sarasota today feels more like a hodgepodge of traffic jams, retirees from Canada hunting for shells along the beach, and a mixture of Italianate, Spanish, and one-story developments that now cover land where orange groves and dairy farms once stood.

At the same time, it’s also something of an oasis in a fast-growing Florida. The modernist style that put Sarasota on the map in the 1950s and ’60s is undergoing a revival, says Martie Lieberman, a Sarasota real estate agent who specializes in mid-century modern homes and is a co-founder of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. “There’s a resurgence—although there’s always been a cool, hip crowd interested in it,” she says.

The problem for Sarasota is how to preserve these architectural gems in a city that has not made historic preservation a priority. Just two homes—the Umbrella House built in 1953 by Paul Rudolph and the Cocoon House built by Ralph Twitchell and Rudolph in 1950—have been listed on the city’s register of historic places, says Wilson.

Seibert himself is not anti-development per se. In fact, because his work for clients ranged from luxury homes to corporate office buildings, Seibert’s influence is “more widespread through our community,” Reinebach says. But Seibert does decry helter skelter growth. “I think one of the big problems today is the automobile,” he says by phone from his home on the island of Boca Grande, about 60 miles south of Sarasota. While Boca Grande once had no bridge access, it does now, which he says means the area is “being trampled beneath automobiles.”

The biggest challenge for mid-century modern homes is probably along the beach. Many of the former modernist homes were situated along the Gulf Coast. But a home that might be as small as 1,000 square feet on such prime real estate is often replaced by a behemoth.

Walker Guest House, architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Ezra Stoller courtesy ESTO

Walker Guest House, architect Paul Rudolph, 1953, photo by Ezra Stoller courtesy ESTO

The Sarasota Architectural Foundation is trying to raise awareness of the fragility of the style by recreating the Paul Rudolph-designed Walker Guest House, a privately owned home on Sanibel Island, for a November conference [SarasotaMOD Weekend November 6 – 8, 2015] on the grounds of The Ringling Museum of Art. “It is the most perfect example of the Sarasota school,” Wilson says. Visitors will be able to enter the small wood and screen building and try out the louvers that regulate air flow, says Wilson. The foundation hopes to take the building on tour around the country as well.

Today, Seibert designs wooden sailboats and spends many of his days sailing in the Gulf off Boca Grande. His earlier home on Siesta Key had been torn down and replaced with a “McMansion,” he says. “If you want to be fatuous about life, why not do it well and be elegant?” he asks. “[the McMansions] are just awful.”

Design Tourist Visits Sarasota’s Architectural Mecca

SarasotaMOD: Inspired, Iconic, Irresistible

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SarasotaMOD October 9-12, 2014

SarasotaMOD Weekend Tickets on Sale

Tickets now on sale!
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This four-day architectural festival takes place in Sarasota, and includes lectures and presentations by leading modernist architects, including Lawrence Scarpa, Tim Seibert, and Carl Abbott. Presenters also include architect John Howey, author of The Sarasota School of Architecture: 1941-1966; and architect Joe King, the co-author of Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses. Author, critic and filmmaker Alastair Gordon, journalist Harold Bubil, and landscape architect Raymond Jungles will also lend their insights. Guided bus, boat and walking tours will explore Sarasota’s mid-century legacy by land and sea. Many festival gatherings will take place in acclaimed modernist structures.

Presented by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation
Lead Sponsors: RGB-Architects and Vue Sarasota Bay
Media Sponsor: Sarasota Magazine
Community Sponsors: City of Sarasota and Visit Sarasota

For more information about the festival, please visit www.sarasotamod.com