History of Sarasota Modern
Between 1941 and 1966, a post-modern style of architecture emerged out of South West Florida. Generally, this style of architecture was seen in Sarasota, so it was dubbed the Sarasota School of Architecture. Many referred to it simply as Sarasota Modern.
The Sarasota School of Architecture is known for using natural light and ventilation with big glass planes, jealous windows, and open-plan architecture, which aligns with the needs of living in South West Florida. In fact, the early pioneers of Sarasota Modern made names for themselves, particularly in Sarasota.
Before we look into the nitty gritty of the Sarasota Modern movement, let’s understand how it was born. Following World War II in 1945, there was a boom in residential buildings. Especially in new construction methods, and new architectural ideas, driven mainly by a new generation of minds.
The debute of Sarasota Modern
Many consider Ralph Twitchell the father of the Sarasota School of Architecture. He was one of the first to deal in reinforced concrete construction after the war.
Ralph Twitchell moved to Sarasota after being hired by Dwight James Baum to work on the Ringling in the mid 20’s. Twitchell was very active in his field but it wasn’t until the mid 40’s that his design philosophy shifted. He was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright when it came to open plans with high windows, allowing for natural heating, ventilation, and cooling. Sarasota is the perfect location with an optimal climate to showcase these modern designs.
Meeting of the Minds
In 1947, Twitchell teamed up with Paul Rudolph to work in Sarasota after graduating from the Harvard School of Design. Twitchell said “there is something about modern architecture that makes it more sympathetic to warm climates than cool climates.”
Over half a decade, Rudolph and Twitchell collaborated to develop their own modern style and philosophy. This was the catalyst for a form of architecture called Sarasota Modern. In 1947 Rudolph described his design philosophy as:
“clarity of construction, the maximum economy of means, simple overall volumes penetrating vertically and horizontally, clear geometry floating above the Florida landscape, honesty in details, and structural connections.”
It didn’t take long for the Twitchell-Rudolph collaboration to gain acclaim worldwide with its modern designs, including Twitchell House, Leavengood Residence, Revere Quality House, Siegrist House, and Lamolithic Houses Healy Guest House.
These buildings were visually impressive and adapted to the landscape around them. Some included raised floors to combat the dampness in Florida and windows designed to harness natural light and heat. The work was so impressive that Henry Russell Hitchcock, a well-known architectural historian, said, “the most exciting new architecture in the world is being done in Sarasota by a group of young architects.”
The start of a Movement
Such success in Sarasota convinced several other promising architects to move to the region. Including Carl Abbott, Gene Leedy, William Rupp, Jack West, Tim Seibert, Mark Hampton, and Victor Lundy. Members of this group would often meet to discuss new ideas, philosophies, and concepts in architecture. These conversations drove a movement away from traditional styles and techniques. Instead, they paved the way for something entirely new and exciting, revolving around geometric and abstract designs.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Rudolph, Twitchell, and this new group of architects transformed the architectural landscape of Sarasota. Then Rudolph created his practice and commissioned buildings like the Sarasota High School, Walker Guest House, Sanderling Beach Club, Deering Residence, and the Umbrella House. He was not the only one to enjoy success, as the new buildings across Sarasota were plentiful.
Iconic Sarasota Modern buildings
Jack West – Sarasota City Hall, First Federal Savings Bank, and Nokomis Beach Pavilion.
Tim Seibert – Hiss Studio, Bay Plaza Condominium, Beachplace Condominium, Siesta Key Beach Pavilion, and John D. MacDonald Pavilion.
Victor Lundy – Warm Mineral Springs Motel, Bee Ridge Presbyterian Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and Alta Vista Elementary School.
Gene Leedy – Syd Solomon Studio, Garcia Residence, and the Brentwood Elementary School which he built alongside William Rupp.
William Rupp – Scott Commercial Building which he built alongside Joe Farrell.
Ralph Twitchell had such an impact on Sarasota that his son, Tollyn Twitchell, grew up designing buildings like the Zigzag House. The house is an icon of the Sarasota Modern movement.
The vast majority of the aforementioned buildings were either included on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places or recognized by the American Institute of Architects, if not both.
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Other Influencers of Sarasota Modern
Another person who was influential in the expansion of the Sarasota Modern movement was a local entrepreneur by the name of Philip Hanson Hiss III. Many of his residential developments served as platforms for the new wave of modern architecture, including Lido Shores. Also he became very influential during his years on the local school board, before being elected chairman in 1956. This allowed him to commission a number of school architectural projects, including the New College campus which was designed by I.M. Pei.
Unfortunately, as the 1950s drew to a close, the Sarasota School of Architecture was in decline, with the father of the movement, Ralph Twitchell, approaching the end of his career and Paul Rudolph swapping Sarasota for New York. The likes of Leedy and Lundy also left Sarasota in their rearview mirror, moving to Winter Haven and New York respectively. Today, the desire to create modern architecture is still strong in Sarasota with a new generation of architects like Max Strang, Toshiko Mori, Michael Halflants, and more.
Let’s call it the Sarasota School of Architecture
It wasn’t until 1982 that the Sarasota School of Architecture received its name and was classed as a movement. During an American Institute of Architects presentation, Gene Leedy said: “I was supposed to put on a big program about what we were doing, and I had to think of a name for the brochure. In those days, they referred to the architects in Chicago as the ‘Chicago School,’ so I called it the ‘Sarasota School’ and it stuck.”
Where is Sarasota Modern Today
Over the years, many buildings either fell into disrepair or were demolished altogether. Fortunately, there was an effort to protect the Sarasota School of Architecture after the Revere Quality House and Healy Guest House were restored.
Lido Shores has seen many restorations, including the Hiss Studio and The Umbrella House. The Sarasota High School was also partially preserved, and others were rehabilitated. It is strongly encouraged for any structure acossiated to the Sarasota School of Architecture to apply for Historic Designation.
In 2003, Sarasota Architectural Foundation was created. The non-profit Center for Architecture Sarasota also works hard to increase awareness for surviving Sarasota buildings.
Despite many buildings being demolished or forgotten over the years, the Sarasota School of Architecture continues to inspire architects today. Carl Abbott, Guy Peterson, and Max Strang are some of the latest to take inspiration from the movement.