Letter From Home: History in three dimensions


During my visits to the models on the recent Parade of Homes, one theme repeated itself: historically inspired architecture.

Neotraditional architecture in Lakewood Ranch's Harmony subdivision. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 3-8-2016.

Neotraditional architecture in Lakewood Ranch's Harmony subdivision. Staff photo / Harold Bubil; 3-8-2016.

Neotraditionalism is prevalent as home builders, especially the “nationals,” offer houses that have a lot in common with the pre-World War II pattern book.

They are successful with it; a builder is not going to build something that doesn’t sell as quickly as possible, and national builders can market such homes across the country. These models are pretty, too, and fit into the nostalgia of “Make America Great Again” thought.

But it is the opposite side of the coin from the work being done by the architecture community. And it makes me think because, in my opinion, our built environment is something of a storybook. It is nice to be able to drive around town and tell roughly when a house was built, and by whom, from its appearance. Going forward (that expression makes me smirk), it is going to be more difficult to do that. Size, elevation, and, in the case of the eastern subdivisions, location will be how we date a house, not its architectural language.

In fact, some of the styling I see is like one of those recorded solicitation phone calls. It’s in English, but it’s not really human.

Authenticity can be an issue when a new house looks as if it were constructed in 1925, even though it may be well built and beautifully detailed. The higher the price tag, generally speaking, the better the fixtures, finishes and details, and the easier it is to accept as neo-authentic.

Meanwhile, closer to salt water, architects and contractors are building for today, especially with nonresidential buildings. Sarasota County has been a big proponent of architecture that is of its time and place. Doctors and car dealers, too. They want to look progressive.

“Some people are comfortable with public spaces that express contemporary ways of living,” said Sarasota architect Jerry Sparkman, “while at the same time they might not feel comfortable doing that with their own domestic environment.”

Sparkman will be speaking at a Sarasota Architectural Foundation event on Thursday, March 31, at the Herald-Tribune building, 1741 Main St., Sarasota. His topic: “Private Lives + Public Stories: Architecture as Visual Story Telling.” (See page I10.)

During a recent interview, I shared with Sparkman my belief that buildings should tell the history of a community in three dimensions.

“The building environment captures what people believe in,” he said. “Sometimes people get upset when what is being built doesn’t express what they feel is appropriate for the time or the community.

“When people build traditional additions off traditional homes, or try to mimic the past, it falls a little bit short in the potential that architecture can express contemporary ideas and still show respect for the past without mimicking it.”

That is not to say that the old should be discarded. Sometimes that is necessary, but often it is not.

“A really beautiful community is one that holds on to the valuable things of the past, but still allows people to express new ideas through buildings, art and different forms of culture,” Sparkman said.

But architecture is a different art form, “one of those things that is very touchy for a lot of people,” he added. “In dance, crazy things are done all the time, and I don’t think people get as worked up about it as a strange building. When you have a lot of historic context and then have a new form of expression, it inevitably adds tension. And for some people, that is a healthy thing, and for some people it is not.”

Sparkman says it is healthy. He doesn’t fear controversy and debate — he welcomes it.

“I hope it continues to create some debate. Part of architecture’s role is to create questions.”

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: March 13, 2016
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