The Mayan Connection

Carl Abbott brings an architect’s insight to the legacy of the Maya

May 4, 2016
By Marty Fugate, Your Observer

Carl Abbott is a thoroughly modern architect, a working practitioner of the Sarasota School of Architecture. He’s not a Luddite or the architectural equivalent of Indiana Jones. Abbott looks to architecture’s future. But he also sees surprising echoes of that future in the past.

Ancient architecture fascinates him — Maya structures most of all.

Abbott Maya to Modern

We speak about it at his north Sarasota offices, a low-slung complex on a sprawling tract of land off Whitaker Bayou. It looks like a jungle. It’s easy to imagine a Maya temple rising up in the distance.

I tell him that. Abbott smiles and says, “Sure.” He politely adds that, outside of the fakery of Disney World, a Maya structure wouldn’t really work in Florida. They exist in context. Specific buildings, designed for specific sites.

Well, by definition every building relates to its site. But some do it better than others. Frank Lloyd Wright was the modern architect who did it best. The relationship of structure to site was the foundation of his organic architecture. Abbott follows in Wright’s footsteps with his insistence that every building be “informed by the land.”

A very modern principle. And an ancient one, as Abbott discovered in 1976.

That’s when he and his two young sons traveled to the Yucatan to experience the architectural legacy of the Maya.

“I thought they’d be excited,” he says. “But I was more excited than they were. I could see that the Maya buildings were tied to the sun, to the stars, to the form of the land itself. There was a whole spatial vocabulary and set of connections.”

Abbott had detected a Mayan resonance with the principles of modernist architecture, and his own work. “I realized that what the Maya were doing was very close to what I was doing. Of course, they did it first, thousands of years ago.”

In the years that followed, Abbott explored the Mayan connection.

It started with research and occasional trips. About a decade ago, those trips became more frequent. The architect teamed up with archeologists and anthropologists. This dream team of Ph.D.s includes New College professor Tony Andrews; Millsaps professor George Bey; Davidson College professor Bill Ringle; Tomás Negrón, an archaeological researcher at Mexico’s National Institute of Archaeology and History; and Patricia Plunket, a professor at the University of the Americas (and Sarasota writer Bob Plunket’s sister).

They’re the top specialists in their fields. And far more likely to contribute to National Geographic than Architectural Digest. But Abbott has an architect’s eye. And he saw things they didn’t.

“I’d point something out,” he says. “The initial response was, ‘Abbott, you’re crazy.’ But they finally realized I was onto something.”

The architect has shared his insights at the Maya at the Playa international conference, and at slideshow lectures around Florida and the nation. He shared his insights with me—in a highly simplified form.

Here’s an overview of the Mayan/modernist connection:

Relate to the Land

Before designing for a site, Abbott always goes there in person. He’ll rent a bucket crane tocampeche see what it looks like from different elevations. Work out the permutations of sun, wind and view for a structure that doesn’t exist yet. It’s standard operating procedure. Or it should be.

Abbott lists examples of Western architects and city planners imposing Cartesian order whether the land likes it or not—and the disastrous results that followed.  The Maya were the opposite. “Each Maya structure was different,” he says. “They specifically designed each structure for the contours and orientations of its site. The land always came first. The Maya had organizing principles, but they adapted their sense of order, never imposed it.”

Sun and Shadow

According to Abbott, any decent architect thinks about a building’s relationship to the sun. A good architect thinks about that relationship over time. His latest work in progress is one example — a beachfront house on Casey Key. The structure has two wings, each oriented to tap into the sun’s heat in the winter and offer shade in the summer. The view sides face the water, naturally. The building’s largest overhang directly faces the sun during the summer solstice, he says. “The shadow effect will be very dramatic.”

Abbott adds that it pales in comparison to what the Maya did at Chichen Itza, where every equinox, the stairs cast an undulating shadow resembling a snake as a tribute to Kukulkan, the serpent God.

“The level of engineering and astronomical awareness is astonishing,” he says.

Secrets and Surprises

Abbott lists other parallels between his work and the Maya’s surprisingly high-tech techniques. His stairway at the Dolphin house on Siesta Key is wider at the bottom than the top, creating the illusion of greater height. It’s called forced perspective, and the Maya beat him to it. Another technique? Rotating an element off a building’s dominant axis to create a sense of surprise. Abbott often skews floors at different angles from the building’s main orientation. The Maya did it with stairways and walls.

What’s going on, exactly?

It’s probably the most modern technique of all … mind games. “Psychology,” says Abbott. He says Maya buildings play with one’s perception. “Essentially, the structure creates a set of expectations in your mind, and then it does the unexpected.”

It’s something Abbott does in his own work. It takes one to know one, as they say.

“A static building is dead,” he says. “A building that surprises and engages you is alive. That’s what Wright, myself and others try to do. That’s what the Maya did, and it flowed out of their animist belief system. Their buildings weren’t dead stones; they were alive. That’s what they thought, and, in a sense, they were right. Centuries after they were built, the Maya structures still have life.”


Carl’s Upcoming 2016 Talks: Carl Abbott will speak about the sacred architecture of the Maya at the Florida American Institute of Architects convention July 22, 2016 in West Palm Beach and at the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s (SAF) talk on August 4, 2016 at Ringling College of Art + Design (Click to buy advance tickets online).

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Modern Sarasota Looks to Its Roots

This Fall, The Groundbreaking Work of Paul Rudolph Comes Into Focus with an Exhibition and a Symposium Devoted to the Great Modernist’s Architecture

By Beth Dunlop, Editor in Chief, Modern Magazine

Riverview High School, completed in 1958 in Sarasota, Florida, was one of the architect Paul Rudolph’s great early achievements. Passively cooled and instinctively green, it was at once modern and tropical, and for all its size (a high school after all), it had a surprisingly delicate presence, the kind of open and airy architecture that is anathema to school boards thinking about building fortresses resistant to hurricanes and school shootings. Against considerable outcry, the school was demolished in 2009, an act that began to focus much-needed national and international attention on the remarkable modernist architectural legacy of Sarasota, of Rudolph, and of his colleagues and followers.

Unlike some of America’s other shrines of residential modernism (Palm Springs and New Canaan, to name two), Sarasota has largely stayed out of the limelight. The reasons are many: among them, that it is not on the main tourist trails of Florida, and historically, it was settled, largely, by affluent publicity-shunning Midwesterners, though one could hardly call its most famous residents—John and Mable Ringling of circus fame—avoiders of publicity.

And yet, this Florida Gulf Coast city is one of the most important enclaves of mid-century modernism in America. Starting in the years just after World War II, when Rudolph moved there to work with Ralph Twitchell, Sarasota became home to a remarkable group of architects who worked in an idiom that one might call part-Bauhaus, part-Neutra, and all Sarasota. Much later, it was dubbed the Sarasota School of Architecture, but one can be quite sure that at the time, the architects working there simply thought they were making modern buildings. And though he stayed in Sarasota the better part of a decade before he became dean of architecture at Yale University in 1958, Rudolph was really the linchpin of the movement.

Rudolph’s Sarasota comes into focus this fall with an exhibition and a three-day conference devoted to those years and his buildings. A small exhibition entitled “Paul Rudolph: The Guest Houses” will be on view at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art from September 25 to December 6, centering on the small guest houses for which he became best known in Florida. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation has worked tirelessly to raise the funds to erect a replica of one of these, the Walker Guest House, on the grounds of the museum for the show. The Walker Guest House, built in 1952 for Dr. Walter Walker, is still standing on Sanibel Island, some one hundred miles to the south of Sarasota, and has been in continuous family use by Walter’s widow, Elaine Walker.

The guest house reconstruction will also be the centerpiece of the second annual SarasotaMOD Weekend mounted by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. The three-day event, running November 6–8, offers an opportunity to tour, study, and celebrate Sarasota’s fine collection of houses, beach clubs and pavilions, and civic and commercial buildings. “There’s no question that Rudolph was the key, but one can’t really talk about Rudolph and Sarasota alone,” says Carl Abbott, a Sarasota architect who studied under Rudolph at Yale. “It’s not just Sarasota but the fact that Sarasota led him to the world.”

A southerner by birth, the son of an itinerant preacher, Rudolph had worked briefly in Sarasota immediately after graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). He then headed off to graduate school at Harvard, then home to Walter Gropius and ripe with the ideas of the Bauhaus. War intervened, but afterwards Rudolph completed his Harvard graduate degree in architecture and moved back to Sarasota to work with Twitchell, with whom he’d interned as a student.

With Twitchell, and later in his own practice, Rudolph began designing a remarkable body of work, focusing primarily on small, delicate buildings that stood like fragile pavilions in the landscape, open to the sun and breezes and yet shielded from both. The Walker Guest House was among the first of these, unpretentious and yet ingenious in the way it could open to the elements or close them out— and it is the only extant example of this early work that is not in, or near, Sarasota. Simple in both form (there were some exceptions, of course) and detail, his buildings made the most of rather basic materials, allowing the structure to become part of the landscape and not dominate it. He experimented with plywood and concrete, pushing building materials to their newest and most creative uses.

Later, Rudolph’s work would change dramatically, but in Sarasota it was delicate, light, and airy—and experimental. His Cocoon House (officially the Healy Guest House of 1950) has a concave (or catenary) roof made of a spray-on vinyl building material developed by the U.S. armed forces and called Cocoon (thus the house’s name), and jalousie walls that can open and close. Rudolph’s 1953 Umbrella House has a second roof suspended over both the structure and the backyard, again a response to light and heat. The Tampa architect John Howey, who wrote a major volume on Sarasota architecture (“The Sarasota School of Architecture”), looks to the beginnings of the movement citing “respect for the land and the climate, appreciation for what was good from the past, eye for local materials, and use of new construction techniques.” After Rudolph connected with Sarasota’s great design patron of the time, Philip Hiss, he went on to design the two high schools, the late and still lamented Riverview and the Sarasota High School, actually a large addition to a small existing building.

Those underlying ideas—both the philosophical and the pragmatic—would guide not just Twitchell and Rudolph but those who followed. Rudolph and Twitchell were joined in their modernist mission by a singular group of architects, including (and not limited to) Victor Lundy, Gene Leedy, Jack West, Tim Seibert, William Rupp, Bert Brosmith, Frank Folsom Smith, John Howey, Mark Hampton, and the aforementioned Carl Abbott. Some came and stayed, while others moved on but not without leaving a mark.

In a 1995 talk in Los Angeles given just two years before his death, Rudolph spoke of the driving forces behind his work; he called them “the DNA of architecture, the essences” that he said had guided his work since the early 1950s, his years in Sarasota. For Rudolph these principles were “consideration of site, of space, of scale, of structure, of function, and of spirit,” a list that provides enormous insight into his approach to architecture.

The legacy of the whole Sarasota school was explored at last year’s MOD Weekend, and is of course the overriding preoccupation of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, but as Abbott has pointed out, Rudolph was the foundation. This year’s program features a line-up of speakers including Joe King and Christopher Domin, authors of “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses”, and Timothy Rohan, whose “Architecture of Paul Rudolph” was published last year. The Los Angeles architect Lawrence Scarpa will moderate a panel entitled “We Knew Rudolph” that will feature Abbott, as well as Roberto de Alba, author of “Paul Rudolph: The Late Work”.

SarasotaMOD’s biggest draw, however, is an almost full day of tours that will take in some of the city’s fine modernist houses and will include a visit to an immaculately restored Rudolph masterwork, the Umbrella House and the remarkable and also just-restored Sarasota High School, which was saved through the efforts of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and others—and really is not a consolation prize for the loss of Riverview but a triumph on its own.

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.

Save the Paul Rudolph Canopies in Sarasota FL Under Threat of Demolition

By Alastair Gordon
https://www.facebook.com/alastair.gordon.5

It’s been a rough month for architect Paul Rudolph. First, there was news of his Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY being torn down and now, I just got word from the Sarasota Architectural Foundation that Rudolph’s elegantly minimal pedestrian canopies that extend around the side and back of his Sarasota Senior High School (1958-1960) are in imminent danger of being demolished by none other than Ringling College of Art + Design and the Sarasota Museum of Art (SMOA). Why would a museum want to tear down such an important historic artifact that was designed by the most famous architect of the Sarasota School? It truly beggars the imagination! Most cultural institutions would do anything to have such beautiful modernist structures as part of their campus.

Joseph Molitor photo of Sarasota High School showing all the Paul Rudolph-designed canopies, dated February 9, 1960.

Joseph Molitor photo of Sarasota High School showing all the Paul Rudolph-designed canopies, dated February 9, 1960.

Yes, I can see a clunky transition from parking lot to the back entry of the old brick high school building (c.1926) that the college is now renovating into a museum, but any decent architect would be able to figure out a smooth transition that incorporates the Rudolph canopies while doing a minimum of damage and still announcing “entry” to the people who are entering the museum from the parking lot side.

http-_www.bluffton.edu_~sullivanm_florida_sarasota_rudolph_0028.jpg

Sarasota High School Canopy Walkway. Photo courtesy Mary Ann Sullivan, Bluffton University.

The Sarasota County School Board did a commendable job in first saving and then meticulously restoring the Rudolph Sarasota High School Addition. Now Ringling College must follow suit and see the logic and historic necessity of saving the Rudolph canopies that extend from the high school onto their part of the property and link the two buildings as they were originally intended to do. The canopies are as important a part of the overall design as the main school building.

SHA Walkway_John Pirman Illus

Sarasota High School Canopy Walkway designed by architect Paul Rudolph. Illustration by John Pirman, http://www.johnpirman.com

Please reach out ASAP and send an e-mail to Dr. Larry R. Thompson who is President of Ringling College and therefore the key decision maker in the building process. (The Sarasota Museum of Art is a project of Ringling College.)

Dr. Thompson’s email address is: officeofpres@ringling.edu

Please don’t hesitate to voice your opinion (esp. all of my architect and arch. critic friends) and let them know how you feel about the importance of these Rudolph’s canopies! Thank you for your participation!


Alastair Gordon is Contributing Editor at WSJ Magazine, Architecture Critic at the Miami Herald and Distinguished Fellow at Miami Beach Urban Studios. He is the author of numerous critically-acclaimed books on architecture, art and urbanism including Weekend Utopia, Naked Airport, Spaced Out, Wandering Forms, Theater of Shopping, Qualities of Duration, Beach Houses, Romantic Modernist, and Think or Swim, an in-depth biography of R. Buckminster Fuller. alastairgordonwalltowall.com

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.

4RudolphGovtCenterGoshenNY

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.”

5RudolphEndoLabNY

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.

SarasotaMOD: Inspired, Iconic, Irresistible

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SarasotaMOD October 9-12, 2014