From the archives (2001): Cooney House wins AIA Test of Time Award


By Dorothy Stockbridge-Pratt


Publication Date: August 4, 2001


It was built in 1965 on a 50-foot lot "as simply and inexpensively as we could make it," and it has met the test of time.

Architect Edward J. "Tim" Seibert is talking about the house he designed at 44 S. Washington Drive, St. Armands. It has bearing block walls, a flat roof, stock windows and stucco and drywall finishes.

Tomorrow, the home attorney Dick Cooney commissioned and still lives in will earn Seibert the Florida AIA "Test of Time" award at AIA's meeting in St. Petersburg. Seibert won the same award in 1999 for his design of author John MacDonald's home on Big Pass. That makes Seibert Architects the only firm to win two "Test of Time" awards from Florida AIA.

The design works because of clarity of concept and meticulous detail and workmanship using ordinary materials. Cooney has made almost no changes, which Seibert considers a compliment.

"What was special about the house was the pavilion living area with its 10-foot ceiling, full height glass walls and visual extension to the outdoors," said Seibert, now semi-retired and living in Boca Grande. "We took advantage of the heavily planted neighboring lots for the view from the living pavilion and porch."

The remainder of the four-bedroom house turns inward providing a contrasting experience in the more intimate bedroom and service spaces. On one end, the master bedroom wing opens to a private, walled courtyard while the opposite end of the house contains two bedrooms, a bath, family room, kitchen, laundry and garage.

Seibert says the simplicity of form required perfect detailing: clean flashing for the flat roof, perfectly straight gravel stops and a way for the water to leave the roof without staining white walls. Both interior and exterior walls had to be perfectly fair and flat so that the spare geometry would have perfect shadows in the strong Florida light.

"Less is more, but the 'less' must be flawlessly done," he said.

The house was featured in the Summer 2000 issue of Echoes magazine. In January, it was on the Sarasota tour of the Southern California Society of Architectural Historians and, in November, it will be on the American Legacy Tour and Symposium when the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota spotlights the Sarasota School of Architecture.

"When Dick bought the lot in 1965, he wanted to build at a reasonable price, but the house had to end up as architecture, a contemporary work of art," Seibert recalled. "Could I design such a house? For a guy like Dick Cooney, I could. I knew we could communicate, for we already had had many discussions about art and architecture."

The two had worked together when Cooney was Sarasota School Board attorney and Seibert was doing work for the school board.

Frank Thyne built the house. He had studied for his PhD at Grenoble and the Sorbonne, making him an apt student of architectural theory. In 1956 Seibert designed a house Thyne could put "on your lot" for $18,500. He built it in South Gate and it won an AIA Award of Merit, the Progressive Architecture Award for Good Design and was a Better Homes and Gardens "Five Star Home." Thyne sold about 25 variations. Seibert and Thyne teamed up on the Field Club project in 1961, and then did a number of larger projects.

The third member of the Cooney house team was interior designer Terry Rowe.

"Terry always made my buildings better. He understood the spatial concept of buildings," Seibert said. "The space around and between furniture was always right for the room. Terry would sometimes suggest a change in the design, or add the finishing touch. The big globe light fixture was his, the strong colors, all of the furnishings."

Seibert says the Cooney house is successful "because the four of us had a common vision of it so the whole became greater than the sum of its parts. In architecture, or any other creative venture, it is the concept that counts."

Modernist work such as the Cooney house became known as "The Sarasota School of Architecture." Seibert believes that most of the principles of the Sarasota School originated 50 years ago with Paul Rudolph, who went on from Sarasota to become one of the important architects of the 20th century.

"It was about the enclosure of space and capture of light. Clarity of geometric and structural concept, economy of means, and honesty in the use of materials were also the signatures," Seibert said. "Rudolph and others of us adapted European Modernism to Florida's landscape and climate, to make a new regional architecture. I believe this was the appropriate architecture for our times in Florida."

From the time Seibert opened his own office in 1955, and for about a dozen years, "I lived in an architect's paradise, although I didn't realize this at the time. Sarasota abounded then in people who understood the new architecture, and wanted to be part of it."

At the start of the 1950s, Sarasota County had about 25,000 people. Its beauty attracted writers, painters, sculptors and intellectuals of all sorts. It was a happy and exciting place for Seibert, who remembers a "camaraderie of optimism among us who believed we were the inventors of new art forms."

"We weren't getting rich, but we had a hell of a fine time, and we thought we were rich," he said.

Last modified: March 11, 2015
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.