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

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 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.


SarasotaMOD: Inspired, Iconic, Irresistible


SarasotaMOD October 9-12, 2014

Parks, Owens, Sparkman: The Evolution of Three Architects

Evolution 3 Architects_pix__April24_2014

Three Gulf Coast architects will each present a project from their early professional life as well as a recent one, followed by an analysis of the contrast and how their development as an architect influenced the changes. The remarkable evolution of their careers will be illustrated by what they’ve learned from the design-build process, working with clients, listening to critiques and finding the inspiration that has motivated them to be who they
are today. A panel discussion and Q+A will follow the presentations.

Jonathan Parks is the principal of Jonathan Parks Architect, Sarasota, FL
Joyce Owens is director of Architecture Joyce Owens LLC, Ft. Myers, FL
Jerry Sparkman is a principal of Sweet Sparkman Architects, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota Herald-Tribune
1741 Main Street
Sarasota, FL 34236

5:00 – 5:30 Check-in
5:30 – 7:00 Presentations, Q+A
7:00 – 8:00 Meet-and-Greet Reception

Become a member of SAF and this event is FREE!

RSVP, pay online www.saf-srq.org/events
Pay at the door: cash, check or credit card

SAF + AIA Members: $10
Public: $15
Student: $5

Questions: info@saf-srq.org, 941-364-2199

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