Visit the Walker Guest House on the grounds of The Ringling Museum to see a tiny house with minimalist design.
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
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
May 20, 2016: Docent training session at The Ringling from 9 am to 1 pm
Interested? Contact Anne Marie Bergevin, docents@SAF-SRQ.org
Veteran Sarasota architects reunite for inaugural mid-century design festival on Florida Modernism
By Mike Singer
Gene Leedy, FAIA, started his career as Paul Rudolph’s first employee in the mid-century master’s Sarasota office when it opened in the 1950s. Decades later, at the 1982 AIA Florida annual conference in Tampa, Leedy coined the phrase “Sarasota School” to frame a special sort of design ethos that Rudolph’s firm spearheaded.
“In those days, they used to refer to the architects in Chicago as the ‘Chicago School,’ so I called us the ‘Sarasota School,’ and it stuck,” he says.
Leedy, now 86, returned to Sarasota last month, joining four other AIA fellows, all now in their 70s and 80s, who recalled the Sarasota School’s bright lights—Victor Lundy, FAIA; Paul Rudolph, FAIA; Ralph Twitchell, FAIA; and other Modernist pioneers—and their impact on the subtropical Gulf Coast of Florida, as part of the city’s first-ever SarasotaMOD Weekend, a four-day celebration of mid-century design.
“During the 1950s, Sarasota was probably the greatest place in the world to be an architect,” Leedy said. “To me, it was like Paris after World War I.”
Tropical Modernism and Trying Times
Today, Sarasota’s community preservation leaders are capitalizing on the city’s rich architectural legacy with renewed vigor. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation, SarasotaMOD’s sponsor, hopes the festival will deepen public understanding of an important regional center of Modernism—this year and in subsequent years—and propel architectural tourism and preservation.
From an alfresco dinner at Rudolph’s Sanderling Beach Club (Image 1) to tours by trolley, boat, and foot around Siesta Key and Lido Shores, design enthusiasts got a rare chance to tour privately owned mid-century gems and learn how a town with fewer than 25,000 residents in the 1950s became a hot-bed of Modernism.
“A more informed, motivated and stimulated audience will ultimately result in a better built environment—one that is both respectful of our buildings and our history,” said Carl Abbott, FAIA, chair of SarasotaMOD. “As lovely and architecturally significant as Sarasota is, many of our own mid-century buildings face enormous [preservation] challenges.”
If those challenges can be boiled down to some critical factors, certainly the long-term effects of climate on materials are on that list, as are the technical aspects of maintaining and restoring older Sarasota buildings. Above all, however, those things are made easier by widespread public awareness—not only of important local architectural legacies, but also stewardship of physical buildings and important design principles exemplified by those buildings.
SarasotaMOD panelist John Howey, FAIA, interviewed 22 architects active in the school, from 1941–1966, almost two decades ago for his book The Sarasota School of Architecture (MIT Press, 1997). In the book, he outlines five key principles advanced by Rudolph—largely adopted from Walter Gropius at Harvard—for what a regional school of architecture could mean.
“Clarity of construction, maximum economy of means, simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally, clear geometry floating above the Florida landscape, and honesty in details and in structural connections,” recalls Howey, “are the guiding principles of the Sarasota School.” Howey, 88, continues to utilize those principles in his Tampa-based practice.
“What happened here in Sarasota was very unique,” says Abbott, 78, a former student of Rudolph’s at Yale University whose work such as the Putterman House (1986, Image 2) continues to draw from the native Kentuckian’s formal experiments in massing and in section.
For Abbott, though, the Sarasota School represents two distinct influences that made it a unique expression of modern architecture: Rudolph and that of Ralph Twitchell, an Ohioan who opened his Sarasota office in 1936 and hired a 23-year-old Rudolph, fresh out of Auburn University, in 1941.
“There were two places in the world where both the Bauhaus School and the Organic School took root together,” says Abbott. “One was in Los Angeles and the other was here in Sarasota. Rudolph studied under Gropius at Harvard, and Ralph Twitchell favored the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Together, Twitchell and Rudolph designed two important projects before Rudolph’s departure for graduate school at Harvard: their catenary-roofed Healy Guest House and the lattice-encased Umbrella House (Image 3, Image 4). Both projects received positive reviews in the architectural magazines of the day. Upon Rudolph’s return to Sarasota, the two architects formed Twitchell & Rudolph in 1946, a firm that had a productive five-year run before disbanding in 1951.
“Many people don’t know this, but Rudolph was a great merchant,” said Leedy. “He gave the magazines a little package with his beautiful drawings, a story, the whole ball of wax—all they had to do was sign their name to it. Paul made it so easy for all of them.”
Widespread publicity about the early Twitchell-Rudolph experiments attracted other young architects.
Frank Folsom Smith, FAIA, took a leave from his architectural studies at the University of Virginia in the late 1950s to apprentice with Sarasota’s other rising architectural star, Victor Lundy, FAIA, for $75 a week. But, as Smith reports, Lundy and Rudolph were never friendly, despite being classmates in graduate school.
“I always thought about Paul Rudolph and Victor Lundy as fire and ice—because Paul was cool and Victor was hot,” said Smith. “Victor was much more competitive [than Rudolph] and an excellent mentor. He could sit down and start a drawing on butcher paper, never miss a stroke, and end up with a design. He’d hand it to me and say ‘draw this.’”
For Smith, “this” included two landmark buildings: St. Paul’s Lutheran Church complex and the Waldman Building (Image 5, Image 6).
Edward “Tim” Seibert, FAIA, was just 25 in 1953, and a draftsman for Paul Rudolph, when he designed the stilt-raised Hiss Studio (Image 7). Philip Hiss, a visionary Sarasota developer and modern design advocate, sold Lido Shores properties from the office Seibert’s firm designed—including the speculative Umbrella House designed by Rudolph next door.
“I opened my own office in 1955, and for about a dozen years I lived in an architect’s paradise, although I didn’t realize this at the time,” Seibert, a panelist at SarasotaMOD, recalled. “I thought it must be like this everywhere. Sarasota abounded then in people who understood a new architecture, and wanted to be part of it.”
Today, however, the question is: How can preservationists encourage Sarasotans to see that once-new architecture as part of their futures?
Preservation and Expansion: Sarasota’s New Frontier
Sarasota has seen the same rapid growth and development as other Sun Belt cities, and preservation has not always been the rule of the land. Rudolph’s Riverview High School, completed in 1958 (the year he left to accept the deanship at the Yale School of Architecture) and the center of strong local preservation support, was razed in 2009 to make way for a parking lot (Image 8).
“The Building Itself Teaches,” the current exhibit at the Sarasota County Visitor Information Center and History Center Museum, tells the story of nine public schools constructed when Hiss served on the Sarasota Board of Public Instruction from 1953–1960. Hiss’s leadership transformed the county’s public educational environment, marrying modernist design with progressive pedagogy and setting a precedent for school design in postwar America.
Schools featured open floor plans and movable partitions and furniture that allowed for team teaching. “A lot of ideas that are common now about students working with other students, kids teaching kids, team teaching,” said Lorrie Muldowney, Assoc. AIA, manager of the Sarasota County History Center, in an opening-night speech at SarasotaMOD, “and these concepts informed the designs of schools such as Englewood Elementary by Jack West.”
Jack West, FAIA, who worked for Twitchell and Rudolph, started his own firm in 1951, and ultimately formed West and Conyers/Architects and Engineers in 1966, which he led through the 1990s.
Today, only four of the nine schools commissioned by Hiss still stand. However, in a major preservation victory, the façade of Rudolph’s Sarasota High School, 1958, is now undergoing restoration as part of a $42 million campus overhaul (Image 9). Jonathan Parks, AIA, principal and founder of Jonathan Parks Architect, an 11-person firm based in Sarasota, helped guide restoration efforts. Other pioneering schools on the other hand, such as Jack West’s Englewood Elementary School, have been demolished.
Elsewhere in Sarasota, the University of Florida recently launched CityLab-Sarasota, which is on track to offer an M.Arch degree program in the coming year. In a city that never had a school of architecture, Sarasota School examples will become a living lab for graduate students. The new academic program will be housed in a former 1960s furniture showroom designed by Sarasota School modernist William Rupp, AIA, and share the space with the Center for Architecture Sarasota, which opened in 2013.
Even Rudolph’s first solo commission, the Walker Guest House (Image 10), will live on in a new context. While the original, privately owned home still stands in nearby Sanibel Island, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation plans to reconstruct it on the grounds of Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art and ultimately take it on the road as a traveling kit of parts and mobile education studio.
“This is a very unusual ‘preservation’ project because we are building fresh from scratch, from the original drawings,” says Joe King, a Sarasota architect, co-author of Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), and construction manager for the Walker Guest House reconstruction.
Once completed, the 580-square-foot house will be installed on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, where attendees to SarasotaMOD in 2015 will have the opportunity to tour it, learn about Rudolph’s use of jalousie windows, and experience period furniture and fixings.
“[The client] Elaine Walker is very enthusiastic about the project and wants it to travel to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis after its run at the Ringling,” says Joyce Owens, AIA, who moderated a panel at this year’s event and helped guide the reconstruction plans based on Rudolph’s original drawings. “After all, it was always one of Paul Rudolph’s favorite buildings.”
Decades may have passed, but the legacy of Rudolph and his trailblazing contemporaries still shines brightly in this southwestern Florida city.
Mike Singer is a frequent contributor to AIArchitect.
Photos shown above: Image 1: The Sanderling Beach Club cabanas, 1952, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, were Paul Rudolph’s first major non-residential project. Photo by Jenny Acheson. Image 2: Putterman House, 1986, designed by Carl Abbott. Abbott studied under Rudolph at Yale and used his mentor's guiding principles of “simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally” in this monolithic street façade. Photo by Steven Brooke. Image 3: Healy Guest House, aka the Cocoon House, 1950, designed by Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell. Notable for its cantilevered roof and water bank overhang, the house generated widespread national publicity for the two. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 4: Umbrella House, 1953, designed by Paul Rudolph. The home's original umbrella latticework was blown away in a 1996 hurricane and replaced in 2008. Photo by Bill Miller. Image 5: St. Paul's Lutheran Church (Fellowship Hall 1959, Sanctuary 1968), designed by Victor Lundy. With a soaring roof suspended by steel cables, the church's simple exterior encloses a sculpturally curved wooden ceiling. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 6: Waldman Building, 1958, designed by Victor Lundy. It once served as a studio in which the dancers appeared to roadside observers as suspended in space. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 7: Hiss Studio, 1953, designed by Edward J. "Tim" Seibert. A glass box raised on 14 slender steel columns, this was the 1950s sales office where developer Philip Hiss sold his Lido Shores modernist houses. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 8: Riverview High School, 1959, designed by Paul Rudolph. Designed in the International Style, Rudolph's first public high school building was torn down in 2009 following a highly contentious preservation battle. Courtesy of Sarasota County Historical Resources. Image 9: Sarasota High School Addition, 1960, designed by Paul Rudolph. Rudolph's last project in Sarasota, the exterior of the building is being restored and the interior repurposed as part of a $42 million rebuild of the Sarasota High School campus. Photo by Greg Wilson. Image 10: Walker Guest House, 1952, designed by Paul Rudolph. Rudolph's last project in Sarasota, the exterior of the building is being restored and the interior repurposed as part of a $42 million rebuild of the Sarasota High School campus. Photo by Greg Wilson.
They always say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” The Sarasota School Board is about to prove this with its plans to demolish the common areas of the historic Paul Rudolph Addition at Sarasota High School. This will forever alter the iconic architect’s last remaining public building in Florida.
Responsible local governments all across the country are going out of their way to protect significantly historical homes, buildings and landmarks. Sarasota should be one of them.
Imagine visiting the Lincoln Memorial and finding it encased in a glass, air-conditioned box to make visitors more “comfortable.”
Imagine visiting the great cathedrals of Europe only to find inside modern track lighting and altars of gleaming stainless steel to make them more “relevant” to today’s worshipers.
Absurd, but similar to what is being proposed in Sarasota.
We bought a home on Siesta Key eight years ago because we loved the area’s beaches, cultural attractions and strong, modern architectural heritage.
Paul Rudolph is a founding figure in the field of modern architecture. His work began here and he’s recognized internationally.
As steward of this unique, historic structure, the School Board has the responsibility to honor the 2007 stipulation in which they agreed to appropriately rehabilitate the Rudolph Addition. Please, board members, direct your architects to redesign the common areas of Building No. 4 with proper respect for the entire structure.
History will prove you right.
Siesta Key, FL
Link to Herald Tribune
In 2007 the Sarasota County School Board signed an agreement with the Sarasota community to “appropriately rehabilitate” the Rudolph Addition to Sarasota High School. The agreement was entered into with a clear understanding of what “appropriate rehabilitation” means.
Now, five years later, the School Board staff is telling the students and their families that the 21st century learning school they have been promised with the renovation of Sarasota High School campus cannot be done if the Rudolph Addition is appropriately rehabilitated.
This is the same complex of buildings it was in 2007, the same footprint, the same amount of square feet. Nothing has changed except the School Board’s commitment to the citizens of Sarasota.
What kind of example is the board setting for our young citizens by breaking its promise and throwing away a valuable opportunity?
The rehabilitation of the Rudolph Addition can draw world attention to the school’s exceptional learning programs as well as to its extraordinary architecture. Appropriate rehabilitation through preservation of the building’s unique architectural features can also magnify the impact of public funds.
Financial resources for the maintenance and future improvement of the building can be earned through additional use, outside the school schedule, for state, regional and national conferences, as well as visitor and tour use. It can and should be a showcase for 21st century learning and an extraordinary cultural attraction for Sarasota.
Deborah G. Dart
Member of the Board
Sarasota Architectural Foundation
Link to Herald Tribune
The first annual SAF – Paul Rudolph Scholarship has officially been announced. Sarasota County Public High Schools and Florida Colleges and Universities with NAAB-accredited architectural programs have been notified that the application can now be downloaded online. www.saf-srq.org/scholarship
The Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s (SAF) Paul Rudolph Scholarship provides assistance to financially disadvantaged students enrolling or enrolled in a NAAB-accredited professional degree (5-year BA or BA + MA) in architecture. The $5,000 SAF – Paul Rudolph Scholarship has been funded by The Michael Kalman Foundation in conjunction with the Sarasota Architectural Foundation of Sarasota, Florida.
Eligibility for High School Seniors:
- Applicant is a graduate or is graduating from a Sarasota County, Florida Public High School
- Applicant comes from a financially disadvantaged background
- Applicant is entering a NAAB-accredited professional program in architecture
Eligibility for Students in Architecture:
- Applicant is a graduate of a Sarasota County, Florida Public High School
- Applicant is enrolled in a NAAB-accredited professional degree (5-year BA or BA + MA) in architecture
- Applicant comes from a financially disadvantaged background
- Applicant demonstrates academic excellence and outstanding design talent
The 2012 scholarship application information is available online:
The application must be postmarked by Friday April 27, 2012.
The scholarship recipient will be announced May 15, 2012.
Contact Information / Questions
2012 SAF – Paul Rudolph Scholarship
Hilary Keaton, Scholarship Director
3536 East Forest Lake Drive
Sarasota, FL 34232-4714