Remaking Rudolph

Sarasota Architectural Foundation takes its mission to the streets with this traveling replica of the Walker Guest House.

Remaking Rudolph

After more than two years of planning,fundraising and construction, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s Walker Guest House Replica made its triumphant debut on the grounds of The Ringling Museum on November 6, 2015, showcasing the ingenuity and design of acclaimed architect Paul Rudolph in his early Sarasota days and affording architecture fans everywhere the chance to experience a Rudolph space firsthand. Within the first two months, more than 9,000 visitors answered the call.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: 1950’s Caloric CP Gas Range.

“Paul Rudolph is definitely a name Sarasota and its visitors should know,” says SAF Board Chair Janet Minker. As a defining part of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Rudolph was instrumental in bringing the region into focus during the midcentury modern movement, using broader design principles to fashion singularly Floridian creations such as the Umbrella House on Lido Shores and the Sarasota High School extension. Enlisting the local arts scene to help fund a recreation of one of the artist’s more hidden accomplishments came easily, says Minker, recounting a chilly January morning driving Ringling Executive Director Stephen High out to Sanibel Island to see the original Walker Guest House. “That really sold him on the whole project and we were able to continue.”

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: The Walker Guest House is also known as the Cannonball House because of the eight counterweight balls, painted red, that raise and lower the large, wooden window shutters.

“Rudolph was an innovator, a very creative architect,” agrees Joe King, the architect tasked with figuring out how to build Rudolph’s design anew. A 24-by-24-foot interior space, the small size belies the architect’s ability, using novel design elements such as the floor-to-ceiling screened openings and minimal room separation to enlarge the space. In the absence of solid walls, wall-sized shutters hinge at the roof, to be raised or lowered according to the owner’s needs or preferences. Left to gravity, they balance at mid-level, exhibiting no architectural bias toward privacy or publicity. “Rudolph is characteristic of a very disciplined design,” he says, “a very orderly way that is used to make architectural space coherent and intentional.” Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the complex but precise rigging system controlling the shutters with pulleys, cleated ropes and red bobbing counterweights. “Even though it’s rational and clear,” King says, “there’s always a sense of mystery—‘How does it work?’” 

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Shown: A Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio and books from 1952 reside in the Paul Rudolph-designed bookcase recreated by cabinetmaker Dale Rieke.

The recreation was “challenging,” King admits, but with Rudolph’s original blueprints for reference and measurements and photographs from the original for comparison, the project went smoothly. Construction took only about six months, ending in October, and the hardest part seemed to be finding appropriate materials, such as wooden beams for the outriggers and proper ropes and counterweights for the rigging. Three-strand polyester rope may be out of vogue now, but “that was the latest and greatest in 1952,” reminds King. Unable to find the desired spherical red counterweights, the project resorted to fastening two steel hemispheres with a bolt and using epoxy and other materials to recreate the proper 8-inch diameter.

The crew only actively deviated from Rudolph’s design in two important ways, each angled at allowing a greater number of people to enjoy the project. Creating an exhibit instead of a habitable living space, the bathroom was removed in favor of a lift, making the exhibit handicap-accessible. And looking to make the exhibit a traveling one, the replica was created to be easily broken down, transported and then rebuilt, with King crafting custom-made palettes for just such purpose. Already put to the test, the replica was first constructed in Manatee County before being brought to the Ringling grounds, where it was reassembled without a hitch. With the replica residing on Ringling grounds until October* this year, Minker and SAF already look to the next stop, in talks with such places as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. “People are intrigued,” she says. “Architecture is getting its due in recent years.” [*Editors Note: The Ringling Museum extended the Replica’s stay until April 30, 2017. Over 59,000 visitors have toured the house since opening on November 6, 2015 during SarasotaMOD Weekend.]

Every Item Tells a Story – Sourcing the Furnishings

REBUILDING IS ONE THING AND REFURNISHING QUITE ANOTHER, as Dan Snyder can attest. Using interior photographs from a 1953 magazine shoot by architectural photographer Ezra Stoller for guidance, Snyder and his SAF team have done their best to replicate the interior design with the same exactitude as the architecture. With doggedness and a wee bit of luck, Snyder searched the globe (and the internet) for just the right items to recapture the Walker Guest House in its original 1950s décor. 

Biggest Change Flooring  Gone are the grey linoleum floors, replaced by painted plywood. “We tried to get it,” says Snyder, “but it’s out of production.”

That Wasn’t So Hard  Pole Lamp circa 1953 Snyder thought this one would be tough, singling it out immediately when asked. The fashion of the time, he says, favored floor-to-ceiling setups, making the model in the Stoller photos outside the norm. But a quick stop to see a friend at Braden River Antiques in Bradenton was all it took. Snyder told him what he was looking for, “and he thought for five minutes,” recounts Snyder, before heading into the back and returning with the lamp. “Just like that.”

Time Stands Still  Deck Chairs  “They still make the same chairs,” Snyder says. They used to call them “director’s chairs,” he says, but the same upstate New York company that made the chairs in the original Walker House all those years ago, Telescope, still makes those same chairs. The only real difference is that the older models had rubber knobs on the feet, “like the rubber tips of a cane.”

SOMETHINGS GOTTEN IN DENMARK CERAMIC BOWL  An interesting item, but not so much for its relationship to Rudolph or Walker as that with Stoller, and how it seems to pop up in so many of his photos. “Because he had a station wagon,” says Snyder, “he carried props around in the trunk.” Without much of a lead, Snyder put out the call to his friends, attaching the images. One responded from Copenhagen, purchasing a piece from Danish ceramicist Ditte Fischer that fit the bill and donating it to the project, along with a Danish candleholder designed in 1962 by Mogens Lassen. Neither is identical to the items in the Stoller photograph, admits Snyder. “It’s the same spirit.”

INDIGENOUS LOCAL PRIDE Not one to limit himself to architecture, Rudolph designed all of the furniture in the main room—excepting the chairs—himself, including a table, bookcase, daybed and cocktail table. To recreate these one-of-a-kind furnishings, Snyder turned to local artisan cabinetmaker Dale Rieke, who, after measuring and sketching the originals on Sanibel Island and paired with a local metalworker, crafted them anew. Snyder accents the mise-en-scene with period-appropriate Time and Fortune magazines, an ashtray with a few L&M butts and flowers from his own garden. “And all the magazines are from 1952,” he assures me. “Incredible covers.”

ONLINE AUCTIONEERS EBAY  Snyder’s search through EBay helped him bring in items as wide-ranging as an Egyptian-themed wall-quilt to the surprisingly plentiful Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio. He found the desk designed by Paul McCobb, identical to the desk from the Stoller photograph, as well as the Lettera 22 typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1954, complete with carrying case, that sits upon it. But the biggest catch has to be the General Electric refrigerator, circa 1948, found from a seller in Connecticut. 

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

Like a spider crouching in the sand

WGHR Poster 20x30

May 20, 2016: Docent training session at The Ringling from 9 am to 1 pm
Interested? Contact Anne Marie Bergevin, docents@SAF-SRQ.org

Paul Rudolph’s Knock-Up Masterpiece

By Mark Lamster
The Design Observer

March 29, 2011

Paul Rudolph’s mid-modern masterpiece on the Sanibel beach.

Take a ride down Sanibel Island’s West Gulf Drive and you will find, lining its exclusive beachfront, one McMansion after the next, a palisade of Classical, Victorian, and Spanish Colonials with multi-car garages set behind landscaped gates. There is but one exception: Paul Rudolph’s Walker Guest House, a simple wood-frame box built in the early 1950s, when Sanibel was a remote island redoubt accessible only by boat, and a stay on its beach occasioned no great ceremony or ostentation.

walker guest house_mark lamster 3-29-11

Walker Guest House on Sanibel Beach, © 2011 Mark Lamster

The beige house, perched on short stilts and tucked in the vegetation, could easily pass for a shed belonging to one of its neighbors. Unlike those behemoths, it is closer to the road than the beach, protected behind a shrub-covered dune. It may not look particularly sturdy in comparison to those much larger houses, but thanks to its judicious siting it has survived a series of destructive hurricanes. In plan it is square, with each side divided into three sections. One of these sections is glazed, the other two have panels that can be raised by a rope-and-counterweight system so that the entire house is open to the elements. When they are up, the panels serve also as a shade-giving lanai. The compact interior design and the pulley system betray Rudolph’s wartime experience in the navy.

The obvious precedent for the house is Mies’s Farnsworth House, but I’d say it is just as much a progeny of Philip Johnson’s Glass House (itself a child of the Farnsworth). Johnson and Rudolph were good friends, close since their days studying architecture at Harvard. Johnson visited Rudolph in Sarasota not long after this house was completed. Like the Glass House, it is classical in its symmetry, with the box-frame forming a kind of diagrammatic, low-end peristyle. The whole thing was built with off-the-rack parts on a tight budget. In this it is the antithesis of the very effete Glass House, but it shares the idea of creating a space open to nature in every direction.

It would be nice if this and other modest vacation houses of the same spirit (Andew Geller’s wonderful beach houses come to mind) were a precedent for more of today’s clients. On Sanibel, there are unfortunately few examples of the kind of project you’d find in illustrated in a magazine like Dwell. That is to say, relatively modest (to the extent that a vacation house can be), environmentally sensitive homes built with a modern sensibility.

For more on the Walker beach house and Rudolph’s other wonderful Sarasota work, Christopher Domin and Joseph King’s Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses is indispensable.



Editor’s note: The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) built a replica of the Walker Guest House on the grounds of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL. The house and grounds are free and open daily, 10am to 5pm, with SAF’s docent-led tours. Over 22,000 visitors have toured the house since opening in November 2015 for the SarasotaMOD Architecture Festival. SAF-SRQ.org/WalkerGuestHouse
Walker Guest House Replica

Walker Guest House Replica, The Ringling, Sarasota FL, Architect: Paul Rudolph (1952), ©2016 Esto/Anton Grassl

 

 

Sarasota Architect Joe King Replicates Iconic Paul Rudolph Structure

By Joe King
Sarasota Magazine, October 2015 Issue

Walker Guest House by Ezra Stoller_ESTO
Shown above: 1953 Walker Guest House photo © Ezra Stoller, ESTO

In 1952, when Walt Walker commissioned the young Sarasota architect Paul Rudolph to design a winter cottage on Sanibel Island, he surely knew that he would get a unique structure. But could he have imagined that the little house would become world-famous? Or that generations of architects and scholars would study it as one the most original works of midcentury architecture?

That all came true while Walker, far away from his cold native Minneapolis, lived in the house for 20 winters, enjoying the breezes and the feeling of an open-air pavilion when he raised the flaps, and a cozy cottage when he lowered them. Today the building is used as a guest house, and the Walker family continues to care for it. Because the house is private and in a fairly remote location, it’s been known mainly through Ezra Stoller’s wonderful photographs and Paul Rudolph’s renderings.

Recently, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation came up with the idea of building the Walker Guest House new—using Rudolph’s drawings and authentic materials—as an exhibit so anyone can visit and experience Rudolph’s great composition of flexible space. The exhibit is now installed on the grounds of the Ringling Museum and will open early next month and remain on exhibit until October 2016, eventually traveling around the country.

My construction team and I were charged with building the exhibit. What a challenge. And what a great opportunity to grapple with Rudolph’s ideas, design and technologies while building a temporary exhibit that can be taken apart, transported, and put back together at future venues.

It helped us to realize that every part of Rudolph’s design had a reason and purpose. More than any other architect of his generation, Paul Rudolph was able to combine historical knowledge, current ideas, extraordinary skills and natural talent to create works that were entirely new. As his friend Philip Johnson remarked, Rudolph was always admired for the speed of his mind.

Walker Guest House
Shown above: Walker Guest House perspective illustrations by Paul Rudolph, courtesy Paul Rudolph Archive, the Library of Congress

So the little Walker Guest House is dense with meaning and intention, yet at the same time it’s physically light and delicate. Rudolph designed the house as white-painted wood frame construction to tap into the long tradition of such houses in the American South, where he grew up, with porches and a comfortable domestic feeling. But then, as an innovator, he stretched the capacities of wood to their limits. The outrigger columns, for example, are just 2x4s, unbraced, 10 feet long. As one might imagine, these columns sagged and twisted in the original structure and required reinforcing over the years.

We were committed to wood construction (though steel or aluminum would have been an obvious improvement) because we wanted the form of the exhibit to be as authentic to Rudolph’s intentions as possible. We ended up using laminated veneer lumber, milling it to 1950s’ 2-by-4 dimensions (1 5/8” by 3 5/8”) and applying bondo and wood filler, primer and paint, to give the rough structural members a finished surface.

Rudolph’s large hinged wood panels are the design’s most innovative element. When the flaps are down they function as walls, creating a closed box, and when open they become roofs for an extended porch. The occupant can adjust the flaps to any position in between, for breezes, shade and view.

Rudolph envisioned the flaps as a way to create dynamic architectural space, which he perceived as a fluid having both volume and velocity. By adjusting the flaps, the building and its space came into motion, and for Rudolph this could engender a rich perceptual and even emotional experience. He called this the psychology of space.

We built the flaps like large doors with wood framework and plywood skins. We wondered whether to apply wall paint or roofing material. (Is it a wall or a roof?) We chose white enamel paint everywhere inside and out to emphasize the abstraction of the form. We replicated Rudolph’s elaborate rigging system (Lt. Rudolph worked on ship construction during World War II), including crafting steel counterweights to match the originals’ size and weight, and using ropes faithful to the period. But we did reduce friction in the system by using ball bearing hinges and blocks. The flaps are much easier to use—and therefore better for experiencing the space—than in the original structure.

The Walker Guest House is designed on an 8-foot-by-8-foot grid, horizontally and vertically. This design of pure rationality and symmetry not only reflects Rudolph’s design discipline, it also acknowledges the role of history and Rudolph’s commitment to participating in the ongoing flow of architectural innovation. This was a radical position to espouse in 1952, as modernism purported to reject history (though it never really did). One can think of the four symmetrical outriggers/porches as a reinterpretation of the geometry and ordering principles of say, Andrea Palladio’s Villa Rotunda, which in turn represented a rediscovery of ancient architectural principles.

Today we can look to James Turrell’s Skyspace at The Ringling, where four-sided symmetry orients and grounds the visitor in a static environment, which then frames the continuous motion of the sky viewed above. At the Walker Guest House, Rudolph’s wood squares act as frames for the view of space in motion beyond; and better yet, you can actually walk through the frame and into the space.

The potential of the Walker Guest House as an architectural exhibit reminds me of Mies van der Rohe’s 1928 German Pavilion in Barcelona. It existed as an exhibit for a short time before it was taken down, and then was known only through photographs for more than 50 years. It was rebuilt in the mid-1980s. I was fortunate enough to visit, and it helped inspire me to become an architect. I learned years later that Paul Rudolph also visited the rebuilt Barcelona Pavilion and it had a profound influence on him as well. I hope that, in turn, the Walker Guest House exhibit will inspire and influence visitors to think about how the art of architecture can affect and influence how they see and experience the world.

Joe King is a local architect and contractor. With Christopher Domin, he is co-author of “Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses”. King and Domin will give presentations about Paul Rudolph and the Walker Guest House at SAF’s SarasotaMOD Weekend November 6 – 8, 2015. Visit SarasotaMOD.com for more information. Click to buy tickets online.
Sarasota Magazine is a SarasotaMOD 2015 Media Sponsor.

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.

Sarasota Architectural Foundation Advocates for Sarasota’s Modern Buildings

by Nick Reichert, Observer Arts & Entertainment Editor
nreichert@yourobserver.com

Though Sarasota seems to be in a state of constant development, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation seeks to preserve and honor its historic modern homes.
SAF Advocates_Minker_Snyder_byReichert

Janet Minker and Dan Snyder in front of the Paul Rudolph-designed Umbrella House. Photo by Nick Reichert.

It all started with a phone call. In March, Dr. Larry R. Thompson, president of the Ringling College of Art and Design, left a message with the board of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF). He said the pedestrian canopy adjacent to the historic Sarasota High School, which was in the process of construction for the college’s new Sarasota Museum of Art/SMOA, would be demolished to make room for construction equipment. The canopy, which runs from the foot of the historic Sarasota High School to the middle of the campus of the current high school, isn’t your normal walkway — it was designed by mid-century modern architect Paul Rudolph. And, for SAF, that made all the difference.

Members of SAF’s board of directors, including Chairwoman Janet Minker and Dan Snyder, contacted their approximately 300 members and thousands of social media connections and sister organizations, such as Docomomo International (a European nonprofit dedicated to preserving modern-designed buildings) with a call to action: email Thompson or call his office. That spurred a wave of correspondence along with a protest by SAF members in front of the canopy. After discussion between Ringling and SAF, the canopy was saved and will serve as a part of the future of SMOA’s design.

“If you want to save buildings and other structures, you can’t do that unless people are aware of them and understand their value,” says Snyder. “We need to always create awareness and appreciation so that way if we need to save something like we did with the canopy, we have this body support.”

SAF and Ringling College remain on good terms, despite the incident. In fact, later that same week in March Thompson called Minker for a favor. He asked if she could give six art college presidents, who were visiting Sarasota for a conference, a tour of the Rudolph-designed buildings throughout Sarasota. Minker acquiesced, but what was originally six turned into a bus load of 20 college presidents, all of them ready to devour Sarasota’s plentiful examples of modern design.

SAF_Dan_Janet_Reichert article

Snyder and Minker help lead tours, talks and events dedicated to Sarasota’s style of modern design. Photo by Nick Reichert.

Modern movement

SAF seeks to preserve the Bauhaus-inspired structures built in the area in the 1940s to 1960s. The Sarasota School of Architecture, founded by Ralph Twitchell, counts among its scions as Rudolph,  Edward “Tim” Seibert, Phillip Hiss and Carl Abbott, among others. What makes Sarasota’s take on modernism unique is its incorporation of Southern architecture, such as patios, verandas and modular construction to allow for greater ventilation in the pre-air conditioning days. The style allowed for a play of light and shadow and softened the typical hard lines of the Bauhaus. The designs blurred the line between the indoors and outdoors, allowing each structure to blend in seamlessly with the Florida lifestyle.

The almost 300 members of SAF don’t just support modern design — they surround themselves with it. Both Minker and Snyder have extensive careers in design. Minker still works in graphic design, and Snyder, now retired, designed the iconic nutritional food pyramid that has been plastered on public school walls for decades.

The Lido Shores neighborhood in Sarasota plays host to modern residences with names such as the Umbrella House, Hiss Studio and the Martin Harkavy House that have been designed by influential mid-century architects such as Rudolph and his contemporaries.

Minker, who lives just down the street from many of the houses of which she gives tours, lives in a modern-designed, all-white house created by contemporary architect Jonathan Parks. Her walls and shelf space are dominated by modern art (a giant tapestry photograph of the model Kate Moss holds court in the living room) and books on Sarasota’s architectural history. Minker’s house is a recent addition to Lido Shores’ constellation of modern residences.

The Umbrella House (1300 Westway Drive) could be the face of the SAF. Built in 1953 and designed by Rudolph, it kicked off real estate developer Hiss’ mission to make Sarasota a modern getaway and destination for people to vacation and live. The two-bedroom home is a cube designed to feel open to Sarasota’s sun and breezes. The interior is a love letter to modern ideas of design with an emphasis on unorthodox arrangement and prolific use of lines. The dresser is built into an office wall and goes through that wall and becomes a table in the living room. The hearth and fireplace is a step down from the rest of the living room to encourage comfort and sitting. And, out back, though the titular umbrella (a sun canopy that extends from the roof to the backyard over the swimming pool) is no longer there, photos show a rectangular umbrella awning that leaves space open for the perimeter of the swimming pool just below it.

“I’m passionate about these buildings because I grew up in the 1950s, and it was a time when the war was over and people were optimistic about the future,” Snyder says. “Aesthetically, I think the people who walk into these houses feel like it was designed last week. It’s not at all what you think a Florida home will look like. It’s crisp and very cool. It’s timeless.”

Walker Guest House Replica_Snyder

Exterior of the almost complete Walker Guest House replica, whose grand opening is during SarasotaMOD Weekend, Nov. 6 through 8. The house will be exhibited on The Ringling Museum’s grounds through October 2016. Photo by Dan Snyder.

Preservation promotion

SAF’s roots can be traced to a symposium conducted almost 15 years ago. It was an offshoot of a five-day symposium in 2001 on Sarasota’s modern build aesthetic. Titled “An American Legacy: The Sarasota School of Architecture Tour and Symposium,” the design-driven event, sponsored by the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, included lectures, bus and boat tours, a documentary screening, exhibitions and dinner and receptions. An estimated 1,000 design professionals and design-lovers attended the event. From the success of that event, Minker says design aficionados Martie Lieberman and Thomas Luzier helped form the nonprofit organization to continue the mission of the weeklong symposium. And even though Lieberman and Luzier are no longer a part of SAF’s leadership, board members actively fulfill their mission: preserve Sarasota’s midcentury modern homes for future generations.

And, now, Minker and Snyder along with their five other members and advisory board of registered or retired local architects organize several tours, meetings, seminars and social events that celebrate the love of Sarasota’s modern architectural heritage. The culmination is SAF’s own architectural and design summit: SarasotaMOD Weekend.

The piece de resistance at this year’s MOD weekend in November will be a home of SAF’s own. The organization found that many visitors wanted to see all of the mid-century buildings in Sarasota but many are private residences. So, the board decided to build a recreation of Rudolph’s Walker Guest House, known as the “Cannonball House,” built in 1952 in Sanibel. Constructed by architect Joe King, with Old Cypress Construction, the home is built in convertible pieces on King Ranch in Bradenton. King’s team of four started in March and are just now adding the final touches. Once completed the home will be disassembled and stored until the MOD festival, where it will be on display just behind the Searing Wing of The John and Mable Ringling Art Museum on the grounds of The Ringling. The exact replica (built at an estimated cost of $200,000) will also include modern furniture and magazines from the 1950s to give visitors and Rudolph-files an almost Disney-esque experience. Admission into the guest house will be free.

SAF plans to turn the model home into a traveling show at museums and festivals around the country, including the Walker Art Center, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and Art Basel Miami. The organization hopes that the house, the largest project it has undertaken in scope and finances, will inspire design- and art-lovers not only in Sarasota but also around the country.

“SAF is a connector for like-minded people,” says Minker. “A lot of these people were VIPs in their own communities and they came here to retire and that wasn’t just to play golf. Our members are passionate, curious, knowledgeable and educated, and Sarasota is so lucky to have this constant influx of new people coming in bringing new ideas and resources.”

Architectural Safari

One of the numerous roles that the Sarasota Architectural Foundation plays is tour guide to architecture-loving tourists. Though most of the modern-designed buildings are private property and closed to the public, there are a few that are public or whose owners are active members of SAF. Visit http://www.yourobserver.com/article/sarasota-architectural-foundation-advocates-sarasotas-modern-buildings.

IF YOU GO
SarasotaMOD Weekend

When: Nov. 6 through 9
Where: The Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Road
Tickets: Available online August 14, 2015
Info: Call 364-2199 or visit sarasotamod.com