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On Paul Rudolph and Sarasota's Forgotten Modernist Mecca

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Midcentury architect and style chameleon Paul Rudolph first learned about using space efficiently when he worked as a naval architect during World War II, designing ships where hundreds of sailors could live in very tight quarters. When he moved to Sarasota, Florida in the late 1940s, the architect used what he had learned about light-shell construction and began to specialize in the airy Bauhaus-on-the-beach homes that became a hallmark of the style now known as Sarasota Modern.

Uniquely suited to Florida's climate, the houses were designed to provide shade: they typically had deep roof overhangs, open plans, sliding doors, and plenty of patios and verandas. There was little separation between indoor and outdoor spaces. The plywood or concrete structures were inexpensive to build, but beautiful and geometric enough that they immediately became popular as beach houses, and were photographed by many magazines of the time.

Rudolph started out working with the architect Ralph Twitchell, considered the founder of the Sarasota Modern school, but struck out on his own in 1951.

The most celebrated of the small, striking homes Rudolph built in private practice, the Walker Guest House, was also his favorite. Located on Florida's Sanibel Island's, the 24 by 24-foot cottage sits among sand dunes, and has glass walls on each side that are shaded by wooden panels that can be raised and lowered by ropes and pulleys. "It crouches like a tiger in the sand," Rudolph once said of it.

The Sarasota Architectural Foundation recently announced that the petite 1952 house would be reproduced as a flat-packed modular exhibit next year at the local John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. After the exhibition, the replica of Rudolph's eminently practical design will travel around the country to select museums.

Rudolph built more than 30 homes in the Sarasota Modern style between 1947 and 1958, when he moved north to become the dean of the Yale School of Architecture (he also designed the university's brutalist Art and Architecture building). Distinctive Florida projects such as the Sanderling Beach Club, Sarasota High School, and the Cocoon and Umbrella houses helped the gay Kentucky-born architect make his name.

"His best houses from this period had nothing to do with status or social climbing or any of the other arriviste tendencies that motivated home building in post-war America," Alastair Gordon wrote in the Wall Street Journal. They were "optimistic little follies dedicated to the sea and sky…elegantly restrained and ultra modern."

The Sarasota School is the least well known of American modernism movements, but it is one of the most intriguing. Born from a combination of Bauhaus rigor and tropical building styles, but adapted to the housing demands of both returning G.I.s and bohemian beach-goers, the homes are practical yet creative, and entirely unpretentious.

The Walker Guest House was actually intended to accompany a larger main house, but its owners liked the simple structure with its whimsical rope-and-pulley shading system so much that they decided to live there instead. Mr. Walker died years ago, but his widow still lives in the house on Sanibel Island, where the sun beats down over soft white sand and cerulean waves crash on the shore. The structure has never been changed, and it has never required air conditioning.
· Legendary Paul Rudolph Home is Getting a Touring Replica [Curbed National]
· All Paul Rudolph coverage [Curbed National]
· All Midcentury Modern coverage [Curbed National]
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