An "Architecture Week" for Sarasota?


Could Sarasota use its architectural heritage as a tourism magnet? That was the question pondered during a design charrette held this morning as part of a national architecture symposium at Ringling College of Art & Design.

docomomo logoThe symposium, "Modern Matters," is the annual meeting of Docomomo-US, the national arm of the international preservation group Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement. It is Docomomo-US's first national symposium.

About 40 community members, including architect Carl Abbott, Realtor Martie Lieberman, publisher Dan Denton, Sarasota Archtectural Foundation President Janet Minker and North Port City Commissioner Jim Blucher, attended the charrette. They heard a presentation by Sidney Williams of Palm Springs, Calif., on that city’s highly successful Modernism Week, before breaking into five groups facilitated by University of Florida design students under the direction of Assistant Prof. Marty Hylton.

The consensus was that such an event is a “spectacular idea,” with the economic impact of “putting heads on beds,” as well as promoting the conservation and construction of good buildings and houses.

A major consideration was focus. Palm Springs celebrates its inventory of more than 3,500 midcentury modern buildings, most of them within an easy bus or bicycle ride of the city. Sarasota does not have that many “Sarasota school” moderns, so one suggestion was that the focus here would be on an “Architecture Week” or “Design Week” that celebrates the community’s architectural heritage from the 1920s, 1950s-1960s and the present day, as well as other visual arts, including interior design, landscape architecture, urban planning, graphic design, fashion design and fine art.

Williams explained that in the eight years that Palm Springs Modernism Week has been held, it has grown to an 11-day wintertime event that drew 40,000 visitors and had a direct economic impact of $22 million this year.

“We have the greatest concentration of modern architecture in the world,” said Williams. “City officials were not convinced that preserving the heritage was good for business.” They have since changed their minds, and the city is among the presenting sponsors now.

Palm Springs’ Kaufmann house, designed by Richard Neutra, is one of most iconic of 20th century buildings, Williams said. It was built for industrialist Edgar Kaufmann, who also was the owner of the nation’s best-known modernist house, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1938 Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Restored in 1990 after six years of work, the Kaufmanns' Palm Springs house has been featured in publications worldwide and brought attention to the city.

“But the picture is not all rosy for preservation,” Williams said. The Maslund House, also by Neutra, was sold after the original owners died. The new owners said they would restore it, said Docomomo-US President Theo Prudon, but instead demolished it “in the middle of the night.”

“This was met with indignation that someone would knowingly demolish a Neutra,” said Williams, and galvanized the preservation movement. Out of that grew Palm Springs Modernism Week.

Sarasota also has demolished a number of its midcentury modern icons, most notably Riverview High School.

Perhaps that event could help lead to a successful festival of the built environment here.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: April 20, 2013
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