Guy Peterson, FAIA, was interviewed by Harold Bubil recently upon the architect’s being named the recipient of the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects’ Florida/Caribbean chapter. He is only the second “Sarasota architect” to be so honored; Paul Rudolph received the Gold Medal in 1989, 30 years after he left Sarasota.
Q. What is your reaction to winning this award, and why did you win the Gold Medal?
A. I am totally humbled by this award. It is the highest award they can bestow on a single architect. I am totally flattered that I got the support of the association and am receiving it. It has never been on my radar screen because I got the Firm of the Year, which is a big Honor Award, the only Sarasota firm to get Firm of the Year. And I got the Medal of Honor for Design, for my body of work.
But the Gold Medal typical goes to an architect that has been involved in service and served at the state level in the AIA, not necessarily a design architect. For the association to recognize me, it is for my body of work, my teaching, my pro bono and what I have given back to the profession. It is a nice punctuation point on my career; I should say exclamation point ... a summation of all the things I have been doing and hopefully making a difference in any way I can.
Q. What is your biggest design accomplishment
A. Consistency. I have never treated any project like it’s not the best that I can do. No matter the size or budget, it is an opportunity to hopefully make a difference. I have made a pact with myself that no matter what I do, I am going to make it the best I can.
I think the culmination of that strategy throughout my career has paid off in a nice way. It’s the consistency, and the growth. I had a mentor (Bouchie Barrett of Barrett, Daffin and Carlin in Tallahassee) when I was a young architect, before I started my own firm at 26, and he told me, “Guy, in 20 years, I want you to have 20 years of experience and not one year’s experience repeated 20 times. That always resonated with me, that no matter what I do, it is something new, taken to the next level.
There are levels to my career, where you will hit a project like Theissen (House), the Freund House, Revere Quality (House), Spencer (House), that go to another level, elevated to something new. I don’t repeat those, but I start to evolve new ideas based on new directions that come as you get older.
Q. Of the house you’ve designed, other than your own, which would you like to live in?
A. Cindy (his wife) and I both like the Revere Quality House because of the scale of it, the (2006) addition and having the (1947) historical building as a companion to that. Just the whole site planning and complex has a scale and appeal to us that we like it a lot.
Q. What new directions are you taking in your work?
A. Each project brings new requirements: a new site, and the clients bring a new program. I never want to do the same thing twice. I always tell our clients that everything we do has never been built before and will never be built again.
As I approach a new project, I want there to be a common thread in the level of quality and maybe an approach to rhythm, proportion and scale, and how I use materials, that people might recognize as part of our work, but also executed in a way that I haven’t done before.
Q. You teach as an adjunct professor at the University of Florida’s architecture program. Has that changed your architecture?
A. Teaching has given me a really great insight on how to stay fresh. As a somewhat-seasoned problem solver as a design architect, you have a strategy for how you solve architectural problems. And when I am critiquing my students’ work, although it is not my job to design it, in my mind I am thinking, ‘If they just did this, or this, this thing would really be strong.’ But I identify the problem that they might have — maybe the scale is not right or the entry is not working. When I come back, 99 out of 100 times they have solved the problem, and in a way I would never have thought of. It makes me realize there are so many other ways to approach problem-solving.
I started teaching nine years ago, and it opened my eyes to not just jumping to the first conclusion, but always look for a different strategy and attitude to how you are going to solve the problem. Teaching has been very good to me in that it keeps me looking forward.
Q. You have a large and well-known portfolio, and more than 80 design awards in 36 years. How do you keep your work innovative?
A. No matter what any architect does, you always bring your history with you; that is how we build. But you also want to introduce new strategies for how you solve architectural problems so they remain fresh and timeless.
Q. Who are your biggest architectural influences?
A. Le Corbusier is at the top of my list. It is almost poetic what he did with architecture; his use of concrete and form gives you a lot of freedom in how you think about space.
Mies (van der Rohe) is wonderful, too, but his work has a precision to it that can guide what you do because of how precise it is, whereas Corbu’s work is perhaps not quite as precise and has more emotion to it. That is my personal perception of it.
I had a chance last year spending three weeks touring France and visiting Corbusier’s work. It was one of the highlight trips of my life. Even after practicing for 36 years, seeing his projects is as exciting as when I was a student. My passion for what I was looking at was in no way diminished by all the years I have been practicing architecture.
Q. Who are your favorite latter-day architects?
A. Luis Barragan (1902-88) is not latter-day, but is someone whose work I have loved, primarily because of the wall and how he captures outdoor space as part of the diagram of the project.
John Pawson (b. 1949), an English architect, has a way of distilling the ideas down to something that is so simple and pure that a lot of people might think it is sterile, but to me is so clean and refined and beautiful.
Richard Meier (b. 1934) is a disciple of Le Corbusier, but has taken it to new levels with the technology today and what we can do with structure.
Q. You don’t like labels, but you are known as a modernist. How would you describe yourself?
A. I am pretty much a rationalist in a lot of ways. I like things to have a certain balance; I am not into symmetry, but I am into order and rhythm and proportion and balance. I purposely avoid symmetry. But I do like an inherent balance in architecture so that you perceive some sort of organization that makes sense and is not helter-skelter.
Q. In the age of computer-assisted design, we see building forms that very much break out of the box — twisting highrises and buildings that appear deconstructed.
A: I like the constructed in a way that has beauty. We try to do architecture that has a timeless quality and an inherent beauty in it; that improves the lives of the people who use it and see it.
Peter Zumthor (b. 1943) has been writing about how architecture should be more handmade again. Not so much computer-made. Call me old-fashioned, but I still draw, develop and present all my work to the client for the first time through pencil hand drawings because that is the way the idea is developed, on paper. The computers are very valuable once you can quantify the idea and start to measure it and create it, for production and engineering.
Q. Architectural historian and professor Robert McCarter in an interview with me a decade ago mentioned that some architects were “having a good time flinging forms.” What do you think?
A: Just because the computers let you do it doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s an issue in architectural education today. There is something intuitive about drawing. I am afraid young architects don’t develop those skills anymore because they go right to the computer and rely on it for all their design and production. Sketch books are important.
Some people are starting to recognize that maybe we are moving too fast with certain things and need to go back and evaluate how we approach architecture, and make it more hand-made again. I think there is something to be said about that. I am not saying you don’t need to use computers, but I think we can do both.
Q. In your view, what is the state of architecture today?
A: It is such a diverse profession today, with so many people specializing in different approaches to it. I think it is good. There is a lot of exciting work going on.
Q. Other than firms from Miami, Sarasota architects earn more than their share of state design awards. How do you explain that?
A: We live in a different community here than my colleagues in different parts of the country and around the state, where architecture doesn’t get on the radar screen as much as it does here. I feel fortunate to be from Sarasota and practice here, because this is a community where architecture is well-respected and appreciated.
When I practiced for 10 years in Tallahassee, we were successful and won a lot of awards, but it is a different kind of audience. Based on how rich we are culturally in Sarasota, with the Sarasota School and music and arts and authors, theaters — the people who appreciate these cultural events also appreciate architecture because it is an art form in many ways.
Our role here is healthy. We are a relatively small community and had eight firms win state design awards this year. That is impressive. We consistently have a good showing, and some younger firms are really starting to make a name for themselves. That is good for everybody.