Sarasota’s New College kicks off $15 million fundraising campaign to revive I.M. Pei-designed dorms

Keeping the Legacy Alive

Sarasota’s New College kicks off $15 million fundraising campaign to revive I.M. Pei-designed dorms

Best known for its sunny modernist gems and sprawling Italianate estates, I.M. Pei also played a key role in shaping Sarasota’s rich architectural identity through his mid-career work at New College. (Courtesy the New College Foundation)

The New College of Florida has announced the launch of Pei For the Future, a major effort to breathe new life into a trio of aging 1960s-era residence halls designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei on the school’s 110-acre bayfront campus in Sarasota.

The school’s fundraising arm, the New College Foundation, is heading up the $15 million campaign, which will finance a major, modernization-focused revamp of the three Brutalist-style gray brick buildings—Gordon E. Michalson Hall, Peggy Bates Hall, and Elaine & Harvey Rothenberg Hall—that accommodate over 250 mainly first-year students attending New College. Established in 1960, the small public liberal arts honors college has been part of the State University of Florida system since 1975.

In addition to the trio of residence halls, described by the college as being designed as “a sort of Mediterranean village” clustered around a central, palm tree-shaded plaza, Pei was commissioned to oversee a small handful of other significant buildings on its then-new East Campus—or “Pei Campus”—including the Hamilton Center Auditorium and Classroom Building.

“After 55 years, Pei’s iconic structures are showing their age,” said Monica Van Buskirk, a Foundation board member leading the effort, in a news article released by the New College. “We are inviting New College alumni, our community and beyond to participate in preserving this extraordinary architectural legacy. I.M. Pei built for the future. The humanist legacy of his work is timeless. It’s now up to us to pass it on.”

“Pei marched to a different drummer. The same could be said for New College—even at the very beginning,” added Van Buskirk. “Pei’s unique, bold vision was a perfect fit for our New College.”

view of a balcony at a dorm room in florida
Exterior view of a Pei-designed student residence with a private balcony at New College in Sarasota. (Michael Miller/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Per the school, the dramatic dorm refresh, dubbed the Pei Residence Halls Renovation Project, will entail replacing the roofs of the buildings and upgrading their respective HVAC systems along with all-important waterproofing work, revamps of the residence halls’ interior courtyards, and modernization of the double- and triple-occupancy dorm rooms so that they can be comfortably populated by future generations of New College students. It’s a major undertaking, but as explained by Van Buskirk, the renovations are a “critical need” and an urgent response is required as “time and the buildings’ proximity to the water has not been kind.”

To reach the $15 million goal, the college is seeking donations from both alumni and the greater Sarasota community along with grants from private donors, foundations, and corporations.

Sarasota, located just south of Tampa on Florida’s southwestern coast, is famed for its rich modernist architectural legacy—a legacy of which Pei, then a lauded mid-career architect in his when he first became involved with the New College in 1963, played a part alongside Paul Rudolph, Victor Lundy, and others. The city, which can claim its very own namesake style of regional post-war architecture, is rightfully proud of its architectural heritage and, as such, the campaign invites residents and businesses to chip in and help revive and preserve Pei’s notable (if somewhat unsung in a town most known for its Rudolph associations) contributions. The Guangzhou, China-born Pei passed away in May 2019 at the age of 102.

Sarasota is also home to a number of significant historic buildings and estates that predate the mid-century heyday of Rudolph et al. including several Mediterranean Revival landmarks financed by the Ringling Family. Perhaps the most famous architectural landmark in the well-heeled coastal city is Ca’ d’Zan, an opulent 1926 recreation of a Venetian palace commissioned as the winter home of art collector and circus impresario John Ringling and his wife Mable.

More information on the renovation effort (and how to help) can be found on the Pei for the Future homepage.