There are only a few post-World War II American communities where really exceptional architecture proliferated: Palm Springs, California; New Canaan, Connecticut; Columbus, Indiana; and anywhere the Eichlers built their tract homes. With the exception of Columbus, most of these towns and suburbs featured predominantly modern residential projects, the usual roadside commercial structure, and an occasional public building. Another town that has been largely overlooked as a site of experimental modernism is Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida. Sarasota, is, of course, known as a temporary home of the young Paul Rudolph in the 1940s before he moved up north, but what is less well known is that the town had an evolving tradition when he moved there to work for the architect Ralph Twitchell. This tradition—which was composed largely of residential projects, but also included civic structures like schools—may be little understood outside the west coast of Florida. However, a local organization, the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) is doing all it can to highlight the city’s exceptional modernist history.
The Foundation announced at SarasotaMOD, its four day celebration, that one of the major architectural monuments of the region, the Walker guest house by Paul Rudolph, will be reproduced as a flat packed, modular traveling exhibit in 2015. The model will make its first appearance at Sarasota’s John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, and then be disassembled and transported to various sites around the country. Built for the Walkers in 1952, the original structure still exists as a family guest pavilion on Sanibel Island and remains intact and unchanged. The unpretentious but creative, low cost, 24×24 structure is made of off the shelf materials: standard-dimension lumber and panels, hardware, screens, glass, and roofing.
It has never been air-conditioned even in the tropical weather of Florida because it has effective cross ventilation and innovative external window shades that are raised and lowered by ropes on pulleys and counterbalanced with large red concrete balls that look like cannonballs. When the flaps are raised, they provide shade for the outdoor decks that surround the house, which double the home’s usable square footage. The flaps also shade the interior, which can be adjusted as the angle of the sun changes during the day and can be completely closed for privacy and security.
The project was made possible by a donation of $75,000 from the Michael A. Kalman Foundation. SAF is continuing fundraising efforts to match this gift, and to date has raised an additional $23,000. The additional funds will be used to complete the project and produce a video presentation about the Walker Guest House and Paul Rudolph.