Join our Modernist Architecture Sarasota Tour

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For a tour of modernist architecture in Sarasota, look no further than the Sarasota MOD Weekend in Florida – first launched in 2014 and gaining momentum after bringing together two once-separate local architecture organizations under one roof: Architecture Sarasota. The festival, which took place this year from November 11-13, 2022, is the younger brother of Palm Springs Modernism Week, an established celebration of local mid-century modern architecture, attended by a passionate community. that lives and breathes, and a global herd of modern-o-philes (see the recent Palm Springs Modernism Week 2023 preview).

Like Palm Springs, Sarasota is a honeypot of exemplary mid-century buildings, though the homes are often a bit more hidden thanks to tropical foliage. The city also has its own unique local architecture movement, the Sarasota School of Architecture, active in the 1950s and 1960s and characterized by its fusion of modernist ideas with experimental and climate-sensitive design; combining a Bauhaus approach to industrial materials, Frank Lloyd Wright’s interest in site specificity and the influence of South American and tropical vernacular.

Zigzag House Graphic

Architecture Sarasota MOD Weekend 2022 graphic: Zigzag House

(Image credit: John Pirman)

Highlights of the ninth weekend Sarasota MOD included Paul Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell’s experimental Cocoon House and Rudolph’s future Sarasota High School with its thick shade system. Morris Hylton, incoming president of Sarasota Architecture, was involved in rescuing Sarasota High School from demolition in 2014; while in a previous position with the World Monuments Fund, he awarded the first-ever Modernism At Risk grant to his successful preservation campaign. Architecture Sarasota continues this passionate work and is also involved in listing, buying and renting properties (such as Cocoon house) so that they can remain protected, maintained and open to the public.

“Buildings are three-dimensional objects meant to be experienced. The photographs only tell you so much,” says Anne Essner, Chair of the Board of Directors of Architecture Sarasota, sitting on the sofa in the dynamic double-height living space of the Rudolph-designed Umbrella House. For her, MOD Weekend home tours provide an accessible entry point to good architecture and design for all to enjoy: “Everyone loves homes. People come looking for decorating and restoration ideas, and talking to the owners is an important part of the visit. It’s about raising awareness and helping people see what they’re going through. [With this festival] we want to encourage good design in the built environment on a contemporary basis, as well as stewarding the legacy of the sarasota school.

A TOUR OF MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE IN SARASOTA

Revere Quality House, 1948

Revere Quality Home Exterior

(Image credit: Wayne Eastep)

This minimalist home was designed as one of eight industrial prototypes for the Revere Quality Institute, a research arm of the Revere Copper Company. Designed by Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph using the ‘Lamolithic’ method of construction, named after local concrete supplier John Lambie, which involved a steel-reinforced cast-in-place concrete structure with 21 steel ‘lally’ columns ‘. (In 2007, a large “companion” property was designed on the same lot by architect Guy Peterson, eclipsing the original house.) The first room to enter is an “outdoor room” with agave plants and a lounge area overlooking the swimming pool. Inside, there is a terrazzo floor, plywood partitions and a copper chimney hood. Twitchell would move into this house and live there until his death in 1978.

Healy Guest House / Cocoon House, 1949

Cocoon house exterior

(Image credit: Bryan Soderlind)

The design of Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph’s Healy Guesthouse (also known as the Cocoon House), built for Twitchell’s in-laws, was informed by Rudolph’s experience working in the shipyard of Brooklyn where he witnessed the waterproofing of ships with a polymer spray. He tested the material on the slightly U-shaped roof of the Cocoon house, which was attached to the ground with five steel “straps”. Wooden jalousies provided shade, privacy in the residential enclave of Bayou Louise, and cross ventilation. The house was named a post-war “design pioneer” in 1953 by the Museum of Modern Art, although in 1955 the roof had to be replaced.

Umbrella house, 1953

Umbrella house 1953

(Image credit: Francis Dzikowski / Paul Rudolph Institute)

When it comes to Sarasota Modernism, it all started when progressive developer and traveler Philip Hiss purchased land in Sarasota to establish a wealthy winter enclave with a communal vision of modern life. He commissioned up-and-coming architect Paul Rudolph (who had studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard and set up a local partnership with local architect Ralph Twitchell), to build cutting-edge structures for his land, which resulted, among others, at the Umbrella House, a billboard for his new neighborhood, Lido Shores. This two-level home was built as a marketing suite for Hiss’ Lido Shores neighborhood, right next to his studio and on the freeway as a billboard for modern living, designed by Rudolph. The structure is a steel grid with jalousie windows, and a huge 10ft shade canopy frames the pool and shields the windows from the sun. The canopy or “umbrella” was originally made of cypress wood and old tomato stakes, then replaced in 2015 with aluminum and steel wire X-bracing to meet building codes at the hurricane proof that protects structures from 160 mph winds. The ground ripe for construction here attracted fellow Sarasota school members Gene Leedy, Victor Lundy, Edward ‘Tim’ Seibert and Sarasota’s ‘youngest school member’ Carl Abbott, an ally of Sarasota architecture that participated in MOD Weekend, among others.

Whistle Studio, 1953

Hiss Studio, Sarasota

(Image credit: Greg Wilson)

This structure was originally built as a sales office for Philip Hiss’ development company on Lido Shores. The raised glass box rests on 14 steel columns and has been designed to catch the breeze, with a shaded area to park under the structure. The original oak shelves and cork floor are retained. Architect Edward ‘Tim’ Seibert was known as Philip Hiss’ ‘right hand’.

Cohen House, 1953-55

Cohen House in Sarasota by Rudolph Twitchell

(Image credit: Greg Wilson)

Designed by Paul Rudolph, this home expanded from architect Walker Guest House’s prototype, with the addition of a detached carport and overhead breezeway. The house overlooks Bayou Louise and features an open-plan interior. It was designed for David Morris Cohen and his wife Eleene Cohen. David was a former mayor of the city of Sarasota and co-founded the Florida West Coast Symphony, where he was conductor and violinist, while Eleene was a cellist.

Sarasota High School, 1958-60

Sarasota High School

(Image credit: Anton Grassl / Esto)

The Sarasota High School expansion was Paul Rudolph’s highest-profile commission in Florida and follows principles of passive design and sustainable architecture. It features a white bent concrete shade facade creating an outdoor hallway. There is an open-air lobby and prior to restoration the hallways through the building were partly open-air, welcoming a breeze to pass through. Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation and La Tourette’s Dominican Monastery were key references for Rudolph here, and the building was a precursor to the Yale University Art and Architecture Building.

Butterfield House, 2015

Outer Butterfield

(Image credit: Sean Harris)

This multigenerational home was designed by Carl Abbott, who studied at Harvard under Paul Rudolph, worked with IM Pei in New York, and collaborated with Richard Rogers and Norman Foster in London. He set up his practice in Sarasota in the 1960s, becoming the youngest member of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Informed by the surrounding nature and encouraging outdoor living, this home offers 180 degree views of the Gulf of Mexico and Lido Key. it features a shaded area below the upper levels of the house and is painted gray to reflect the seashells of Siesta Key.

Launching with this year’s Architecture Sarasota MOD Weekend, the exhibition “Tropical Modernism: Climate and Design,” at Architecture Sarasota at the McCullough Pavilion, runs from November 17, 2022 to February 25, 2023

architecturesarasota.org (opens in a new tab)

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