How Sarasota, Florida became the South’s hotspot for mid-century design – Garden & Gun

Photo: Anton Grassl / Esto

Architect Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella House.

Tucked away on a residential street in Sarasota’s Lido Shores neighborhood, you’ll find the modernist home known as the Umbrella House. The boxy wood and glass building is named for the flat-topped slatted roof that stretches from the front of the house to the back, where it surrounds the pool in a U-shape, creating a shaded patio area. It’s definitely eye-catching, but the average outsider driving by probably doesn’t know that it’s also widely regarded as one of the most important pieces of mid-century American architecture.

The phrase “Mid-Century Modern Home Tour” might think of Palm Springs, the California desert city known for its numerous modernist homes. But lately, more and more people are discovering another place to see this type of design: Sarasota, Florida. The Gulf Coast city is the birthplace of the Sarasota School of Architecture movement, where developers and architects such as Philip Hiss, Ralph Twitchell, and Paul Rudolph (who designed the Umbrella House in 1953) took the traditional aspects of modernism and adapted them to living humid climates like Florida and called it tropical modernity.

Photo: Anton Grassl / Esto

The pool at Umbrella House.

While die-hard design aficionados have long known about Sarasota’s importance, a spate of recent press coverage and increased awareness has sparked interest in the southern city as an architectural tourist destination. That Wall Street Journal Recently, Sarasota was named one of its seven must-see destinations alongside places like Sri Lanka, and this year that New York Times listed Sarasota on its annual travel list of “52 Places” and described the city as “the most spectacular concentration of Modernist buildings east of the Mississippi.” Meanwhile, group Visit Sarasota says that between January and March this year, Sarasota County saw a 12 percent increase in the number of tourists spending time in history and museum spaces, which include architecture.

The group Architecture Sarasota is part of the reason for all this buzz. Founded last year under executive director Anne-Marie Russell, formerly executive director of the Sarasota Art Museum, the group works to raise awareness of and preserve the Sarasota School’s buildings. “We live in a country and we live in a state that’s used to decimating its history for the new,” says Russell. “So we’re working to change that.”

Russell partially spreads the word about the group’s expanded programming. Sure, visitors can check out sights like the Revere Quality House, the geometric home in Siesta Key that relies heavily on horizontal lines and floor-to-ceiling glass panels that Twitchell and Rudolph designed in 1948. But you can now also take yoga classes at the Umbrella House, go kayaking to see celebrity waterfront homes like Rudolph and Twitchell’s Cocoon House (the cozy, 8,000-square-foot cottage gets its name from the polymer spray Rudolph used on its roof — the same species used to “cocoon” WWII ships) or visit the Architecture Sarasota Headquarters (housed in a former furniture showroom designed by Sarasota School architects William Rupp and Joseph Farrell) to see exhibits on tropical modernism.

Photo: Bryan Soderlind

Photo: Bryan Soderlind

But one of the most exciting new additions is the overnight stays. Guests can now stay at locations like the Umbrella or Cocoon homes on a case-by-case basis, and later this year the group will launch a larger program that will allow anyone to book stays at architecturally interesting homes throughout Sarasota. says Russel. In addition, the group expands its annual November Mod weekend to span several days. This year’s event takes place around the weekend of November 12th and focuses on all things tropical modernism. Details are yet to be revealed, but expect tours, parties, exhibitions, lectures and events.

Photo: Bryan Soderlind

Photo: Wayne Eastep

According to Russell, the Sarasota School’s tropical modernism has seen renewed interest in climate change and public health in the news. For example, the Sarasota School’s homes are built to cool naturally with heat-shedding overhangs and architecture that encourages cross breezes. This was something designers had to do in the days before the air conditioning movement, but these approaches are also good inspiration for today’s environmentally conscious homeowners (or people who just want to lower their energy bills). The Sarasota School homes also focus on bringing nature indoors through many open spaces. “This is how we should build,” says Russell. “These guys were a great model and we’re rediscovering, and the rest of the world is rediscovering, how smart those designs and that design sensibility were.”

Max Strang, an architect with offices in Sarasota and Miami whose work is heavily influenced by the Sarasota School, agrees. “More and more people will travel to Sarasota just to see and visit these structures,” he says. “It has now been four, five, six decades since the Sarasota School buildings were originally constructed, and they have proven that they weren’t just a fad of the time — there’s an enduring intrigue.”

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