Bubil: Designers on their own design path


Leonardo Lunardi became an architect quite by chance.

The Cardinal Mooney High School graduate, now 32, visited the University of South Florida with his mother years ago with hopes of becoming an aeronautical engineer.

At 6-feet-7, maybe he was too tall to fly a fighter jet, but at least he might someday design one.

But when mother and son arrived at the engineering school on a rainy day, they were met with some bad news.

“All the courses were full,” Lunardi told a packed house at the Crocker Church in Sarasota during last Tuesday’s “Conversations at the Crocker,” presented by the Historical Society of Sarasota County. “I wasn’t able to get in.

“Someone randomly suggested I check out the architecture department,” he said, to laughter from the audience listening to a program titled “Young Turks of Sarasota Architecture.”

“This is truly how it happened: It was a rainy day, I was running across the campus, and I walk in all wet, and we were sitting there, and the lady was telling me, ‘You don’t have any of the requirements to join this program.’

“I remember I left my mom in there with the dean of the school. I walked outside for a little while and when I came back in, they were like, ‘You start in two weeks.’ ”

A lot of architects design their first houses for their mothers. In this case, it appears that mom might have helped clear a career path.

Lunardi continued, “One of my first days there, they gave me this questionnaire, and one of the questions was, ‘Who is your favorite architect?’ And in parentheses it said, ‘Other than Frank Lloyd Wright.’

“And I’m thinking, ‘Who’s Frank Lloyd Wright?’ So I just put, ‘There are too many to mention.’ ”

The audience members, many of them lining the side aisles of the church, sitting on the stage and even standing on the front and side porches, roared with laughter. They came expecting to hear some young designers talk about their craft. As an extra benefit, they got a would-be Jerry Seinfeld with a drafting table.

Lunardi, joined on the panel (moderated by me) by young designers Chris Leader, Damien Blumetti and Tatiana White, eventually learned who Frank Lloyd Wright was, and a lot of other greats of the profession, as well. And, by age 27, he had earned his state architect’s license, the only one of the four to do so as of now, although the others are in the testing phase. (It takes years after graduation to take the state test and attain a license.)

One thing that must be learned by experience is how to handle criticism — an important skill for architects doing progressive work in traditional neighborhoods. Blumetti knows this first-hand. Employed by Guy Peterson Office for Architecture, he worked on the controversial Spencer House — the bright white structure with the square perforations in the south wall — on the corner of Prospect Street and Orange Avenue in the historic Bungalow Hill area of Sarasota.

“Everybody has an opinion,” said Blumetti. “But as long as we were within the zoning regulations — setbacks, height restrictions, daylight plane, building lot coverage — we always just regarded the criticism as someone’s opinion and we always believed in what we were doing. We believed we were creating something special. Now it has three design awards.”

Leader, who has designed several highly sustainable and contemporary houses for builder Josh Wynne, including one just to the north of the Spencer House on Orange, noted that while the public relates to architecture through its visual “style” (classical, Colonial, gothic, modernist), architecture students are trained to think about designing spaces with little regard to ornament or historical reference.

“There is an interesting disconnect in architecture school between style and design,” Leader said. “We take tons of history classes, and they are just that — history. Anything before 1920 never really comes into the design classes.

“You study all of this old architecture and it is important, but then when you sit in your design studio and you talk about how to design a structure for today, those references you are drawing from don’t happen.

“We talk about style, and that is how people identify architecture, but we are thinking about space and rhythm and form. ”

Said Blumetti, “The fundamentals of modern design are good architecture.”

Frank Lloyd Wright taught us that.

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: February 14, 2015
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