Thinking about good architecture


Harold Bubil is on vacation. This column originally appeared on Nov. 10, 2001, following the "American Legacy" architectural tour and symposium that gave birth to the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.

• The event, celebrating the modernist style that came to be known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, might prove to be the best thing to happen to building design around here since Ralph Twitchell hired Paul Rudolph. The symposia and tour buses were packed, the presentations informative and inspired, and an energy seems to have been created that could take local architecture to a new level of prominence and relevance.

<• Who knows? If we get enough people thinking about what makes for good architecture, maybe we can get some more of it in buildings both public and private, rather than the ostentatious mansions and controversial public buildings (this a thinly veiled reference to the Selby Public Library) that have become all-too-common.

• A key to that, though, is the pairing of a good architect with a good client. That was a recurring theme throughout the conference. The architects doing the best work are quick to laud their open-minded clients. The Sarasota school board was a good client -- 50 years ago. Now it appears the people in charge of our school buildings need to go back to school themselves, just to learn what they have on their campuses before they start "remodeling." Maybe some past mistakes can be "un-remodeled," with structural problems being solved with something other than a hacksaw. The architects would like to be given that chance.

• One speaker noted that the modernist designs of the Sarasota School were not loved by everyone when they started cropping up in the 1950s. So true. I remember as a child hearing adults scorn these geometric new buildings with flat roofs as "that modern architecture."

And when you look at the other cultural styles of that era, such as car and clothing designs, you could conclude that modernism was ahead of its time. Today's sleek automobiles, stripped of ornamentation, blend right in when parked in the carport of a modernist house. And it's no wonder so many fashion layouts are photographed in Sarasota School houses. Both the clothes and the house have an edge.

• In fact, as architect Guy Peterson told me, "School is out." The best way to maintain modernism as a vital architectural style here is to propagate the species, not just keep the aging relics on life-support. Sure, we must save the Umbrella Houses and the Sarasota High Schools through maintenance and restoration, but the new generation of architects needs to go forth and multiply.

Educating the public as to the value of modernism is the essential first step. And it wouldn't hurt to bring modernism off the keys and onto the mainland. After all, 50 years ago modernist masters in California were building homes for the middle class, not just wealthy folks who could afford waterfront sites.

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: December 27, 2013
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