Sarasota

Paul Rudolph's 1953 Umbrella Residence is on the list of 'Florida Buildings I Love'

Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella residence in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s Umbrella residence in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

As with Paul Rudolph’s Cocoon House, Sarasota High School, and Sanderling Beach Club, Harold Bubil—the distinguished Real Estate Editor Emeritus for Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune—has put Rudolph’s Umbrella House on his list of “Florida Buildings I Love.”

And with good reason, as the 1953 building (which has been nominated to be on the National Register of Historic Places) embraces so many still fresh architectural ideas, and was executed with economical elegance.

An Amazing Client

Philip Hiss was an extraordinary and endlessly energic character: adventurer, writer, photographer, developer, educator, traveler (with an eye to anthropology and indigenous building solutions)—and a discerning patron of Modern architecture. His own library-studio, designed by Tim Siebert in 1953, was also a local (and very Modern) landmark: a cleanly rectilinear volume, using modern construction materials, raised on a steel structure. It even included the innovation of air conditioning (to protect Hiss’ book collection)—an unusual (and, for the time, pricey) feature.

The Architect

When developing the Lido Shores neighborhood in Sarasota, Hiss chose Paul Rudolph to design the flagship home: the Umbrella House.

Pearl Harbor happened very shortly after Rudolph began his graduate architecture studies at Harvard (under the famous former director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius), and Rudolph (and his cohort of classmates) enlisted. Rudolph became a U.S. Navy officer, stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he learned important lessons on construction, materials, organization, and even the style of command—a body of knowledge that was to serve him for the rest of his career. Rudolph’s adventurous & innovative use of materials—perhaps seeded by his experience of maritime construction—can be repeatedly seen n his Florida work.

After the war, Rudolph returned to for his degree. Harvard was among a number of design programs which created accelerated programs for veterans, and Rudolph was able to graduate in less than a year. Moving to Florida (which he had been told was a place of opportunity for architects), his career really got started in the Sarasota area in the mid-1940’s (tho’ he eventually did work in several parts of Florida.)

Philp Hiss had good grounds for selecting Paul Rudolph as his architect:

  • in the approximate half-decade since starting practice in Florida, Rudolph had already built an impressive number of houses

  • even though the design of his houses had a fresh and Modern feel, such construction was not necessarily more expensive: Rudolph had shown the practical ability to build on a budget

  • Hiss, from his wide travels - especially to tropical environments - had developed definite ideas about how to build for hot climates - and Rudolph’s designs were simpatico to Hiss’ concerns and requirements

Modern Character (and Innovations) in the Umbrella House’s Design

Modern architecture has been much derided (sometimes with good reason) for its endless proliferation of banal & characterless container-like buildings - or as those productions are dubbed, the “Harvard Box.” Even though Rudolph was educated, at Harvard, by Gropius - the very fountainhead of that boxy approach - you could never say that a Rudolph building is boring! Here, at the Umbrella House, he brought his always inventive-yet-practical creativity to the design of this home.

Ground Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Ground Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

First Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

First Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Some of its design features include:

  • One of the most intractable problems of building design in hot and sunny climates is the solar heat-load on the roof. Covering the building’s entire area, the roof becomes a giant solar heat “magnet.” Even the best-insulated roof can only ameliorate the problem to a rather limited extent—and any mitigation is further reduced when the whole environment is hot (“Florida hot!”) day-after-day. One solution - very effective, but rarely tried - is a roof-over-a-roof: the upper roof blocks the sun, and a lower roof - well-separated by air-space, and shaded from above - is the actual enclosure of the house. Rudolph went far in the direction of this approach by erecting a large, trellis-like structure over the entire house (living volume, pool, and deck) - an “umbrella” - thus giving the house its famous name.

Side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

  • Rudolph raised the volume (enclosing the interior living spaces) above the ground plane. Not only did this separate the body of the house from ground-borne moisture, but it also reinforced the visual purity of the architecture: the main component of the house—the one that defined the interiors—seemed to float, and the volume’s edges were well-defined by the shadow-line at its bottom.

Pool-side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Pool-side Elevation. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

  • Most architects, when designing, primarily focus on the plan (and then the elevations). But Paul Rudolph thought in section—something that even his colleagues jealously admit is rare among architects. His orientation to sectional analysis led him to creating spaces with a profound variety of ceiling heights—and his ability to manipulate space allowed him to create the two major kinds of environments that people like to occupy:  large, open spaces (which Rudolph characterized as “the fishbowl”) and enclosed, snug spaces (which he called “the cave”). The height of the Umbrella House was the canvas within which he could compose such spatial experiences. The double-height living room was airy and commodious—but, tucked beneath the stairs, was the Florida incarnation of a fireplace inglenook for reading and cozy conversation.

  • Even though the entire house—including pool and its deck—was under the roof’s trellis-like shade, Rudolph provided a particularly protected sitting area (at the far end of the pool): this is a lowered, solid roof, which not only offered definitive blocking to the sun, but also fulfilled the occupants’ psychological needs for a well-defined seating area.

Preservation

In the mid-1960’s, the house suffered some hurricane damage, and in the subsequent decades it came into a state of disrepair. In 2005 it was partially restored---and then later sold, and restored by Hall Architects (for which it won several outstanding awards for preservation.)

Christopher J. Berger did an extensive thesis about the challenges of preserving works of the “Sarasota School”—and one of the buildings he focused-upon is the Umbrella house. You can see his full, well-researched thesis—which includes extensive historical context on building in Sarasota, and the fascinating cast-of-characters involved—here: http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0041751/berger_c.pdf

City Recognition—and National Register Nomination

The Umbrella House has been designated as an historic landmark of the City of Sarasota. 

Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

David Conway—deputy managing editor of the Sarasota-based YourObserver.comwrites that the Umbrella House is a “a defining work of the Sarasota School of Architecture,” and reports:

Backed by the state Bureau of Historic Preservation, the Umbrella House has been nominated for a slot on the National Register of Historic Places. The two-story home in Lido Shores, designed by Paul Rudolph and built in 1953, is frequently cited as one of the standout works from the midcentury Sarasota School of Architecture movement.

Although dozens of structures within the city are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, most of them date to previous waves of development in the early 1900s. The Umbrella House is set to become one of the few Sarasota School works on the National Register, joining the Rudolph-designed Sarasota High School addition and the Scott Building at 265 S. Orange Ave.

The Umbrella House already has a local historic designation, which offers incentives for rehabilitation and requires city review of proposed changes to the home. In 2015, the Umbrella House was renovated to re-create its namesake “umbrella” structure, designed to shade the residence.

City Planner Cliff Smith said the national designation was another way the property owners are attempting to secure the Umbrella House’s historic legacy. On Tuesday, the city’s Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously to endorse the application, which a national committee will consider in August.

Smith said the designation would add to the significance of an architectural movement in which the community has taken great pride.

“The Sarasota School of Architecture, that unique form of building that’s indigenous to the city of Sarasota — we’re very happy that’s reached national status,” Smith said.

Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House For Sale

Image: © Ezra Stoller / Esto

Image: © Ezra Stoller / Esto

The Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation has learned that Paul Rudolph’s iconic Walker Guest House will be for sale in the coming weeks. The listing will include the Walker Guest House and the main gulf-front residence on a 1.6 acre lot for $6,795,000.

The 1952 project was the first commission received by the thirty-four year old Rudolph after he left his partnership with Ralph Twitchell. Rudolph would later describe it as one of his favorite homes, saying the home “crouches like a spider in the sand.” The project would also be known as the ‘Cannonball House’ because of Rudolph’s use of red cannonballs as weights to hold the home’s signature wood panels in place.

Rudolph’s renderings showing the movable flaps for privacy. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

According to Rudolph in the 1970 book The Architecture of Paul Rudolph by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy,

"Two bays on each side of this guest cottage are filled with pivoting panels which function as
1  the enclosing wall,
2  the ventilating element,
3  the shading device,
4  the hurricane shelter.
The third bay is filled with glass, to admit light and splendid views. When the panels are closed, the pavilion is snug and cave-like, when open the space psychologically changes and one is virtually in the landscape."

Plan with raised wall elements.  Two sections each of all four walls can be swung upwards into a horizontal position, steel balls suspended from steel cables provide counter balances.  All connections of the white painted wooden structure are joined by screws.  Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Plan with raised wall elements. Two sections each of all four walls can be swung upwards into a horizontal position, steel balls suspended from steel cables provide counter balances. All connections of the white painted wooden structure are joined by screws. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Author Tim Rohan wrote about the significance of the guest house in Curbed,

The Walker House was Rudolph's complex tribute to and critique of the International Style's most celebrated dwelling, the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe (Plano, IL, 1946-51). With its lightweight, white wood frame, the Walker House was Rudolph's "poor man's" version of the Farnsworth's expensive white, steel frame, whose beauty he could not help but admire. Rudolph corrected the main drawback of the Farnsworth House, evident as well in the Glass House (New Canaan, CT, 1945-49) by Philip Johnson: lack of privacy. Edith Farnsworth felt exposed by her house's glass walls, which she was powerless to change. For privacy, Johnson retreated to the almost windowless confines of his adjacent Brick House. Rudolph rectified this drawback by allowing the user to adjust the shutters of the Walker House for privacy and to suit their moods. Rudolph explained, "With all the panels lowered the house is a snug cottage, but when the panels are raised it becomes a large screened pavilion. If you desire to retire from the world you have a cave, but when you feel good there is the joy of an open pavilion." The Walker House set Rudolph upon the path to concluding that architecture was the art of manipulating space in order to affect and reflect human emotions, as was evident from the interior complexity of his Brutalist buildings, the most famed being his Yale Art & Architecture Building (New Haven, CT, 1958-63).

Many architecture students have studied the design and built models of it while in school making it one of Rudolph’s best known early works along with his 1961 Milam Residence. The home was also recognized by the AIA Florida chapter as ‘Best Residential Building in the State of Florida’ in 2012.

Please spread the word about the upcoming sale and if you know anyone interested in preserving the house, please reach out to us at office@paulrudolphheritagefoundation.org

Paul Rudolph's 1952 Sanderling Beach Club is one of the 'Florida Buildings I Love'

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Photo: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Harold Bubil, Real Estate Editor Emeritus for the Herald-Tribune, writes in the newspaper that Paul Rudolph’s Sanderling Beach Club is one of his favorite buildings in Florida.

The project was begun when developer Elbridge S. Boyd originally formed Siesta Properties, Inc. in 1946 with the plan to create a residential community in the area. In 1951, a homeowners association for residents of Siesta Properties known as the Siesta Club was founded. A year later in 1952, a cabana club was proposed to house guests of the local residents.

According to the website Satasota History Alive,

Local architect Paul Rudolph was selected to design the clubhouse, cabanas and observation tower. The initial phase, built in 1952, consisted of a concrete patio with a small white wooden observatory. The platform, about 10 feet up, was reached by a simple set of stairs, along the east side and furnished with chairs and a table. On either side of the patio was a single-story structure containing five cabanas each. A two-bay restroom building was located east of the tower. Each of these structures displayed a distinctive roof consisting of a series of shallow vaults constructed of thin plywood. Several resident-members participated in the construction of these early buildings.

Rudolph’s first proposal for the project. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s final proposal - note the revised design of the lookout. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s final proposal - note the revised design of the lookout. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Rudolph’s rendering of the final scheme. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph looking out from the constructed observatory. Photo: Library of Congress

According to the website Satasota History Alive:

By 1958 three more buildings, with five cabanas each, were constructed by local contractor John Innes. Three new cabana buildings, which followed Paul Rudolph's design for the original two buildings, were arranged in a stepped line extending south of the original group. “A tennis court had been built, a life boat and telephone provided a measure of swimming safety to the area, and Sunday lunches were being held underneath table umbrellas.”

A clubhouse was not constructed until 1960, although included in Rudolph's original plans. John Crowell was hired to prepare the plans for the new two-story building. It was to abut the existing restroom building on the south and contain five Rudolph-style cabanas on the second floor. It was also expected to align with the shell roofed observation tower. However, a lack of structural integrity was recognized in the tower soon after its construction. For a time people were no longer allowed on the platform. The entire tower was torn down in the late 1960s.

The current site. Photo: Google Maps

Typical Cabana Floor Plan. Image: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Writes Bubil:

The Gulf-front site demanded modestly sized structures that sat lightly on the sand and provided shelter for the tenants, some of whom have rented their cabanas for decades and have decorated the interiors to suit personal tastes and needs.

Rudolph’s early Sarasota structures often were experiments, and that was the case at Sanderling. The arched roofs are made from curved plywood, a material he learned about while serving at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II. The posts are economically made of doubled-up 2-by-4s.

But it is the spirit of the cabanas that defines Rudolph’s creativity. The wave-like form of the roofs is appropriate for the site, and the simply geometry of the cabanas makes them look like delicately sized temples for sun worshipping.

On June 29, 1994, the project was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Rudolph's Cocoon House captured in new video

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

The exterior in 2017. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation

Paul Rudolph’s Healy Guest House, known as the ‘cocoon house’ for its unique roof construction, is featured in a new video by the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.

According to the video’s description,

Located on Bayou Louise Lane on Siesta Key, Cocoon House is a two-bedroom, one-bath, 760-square-foot cottage built as a guesthouse for Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Healy. The house gets its name from the technology used to build its roof: a polymer spray that Paul Rudolph saw being used at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on warships returning after WWII in order to "cocoon" or moth-ball them. Rudolph's creativity made him realize that this material could also be used in the construction industry. The Cocoon House was named “Best House Design of the Year” from the AIA in 1949; selected by MoMA New York in 1953 as one of 19 examples of houses built since WWII that were "pioneers of design;” and locally designated as a historic property by the City of Sarasota in 1985.

To watch the two-minute video, click below or follow the link here.

Paul Rudolph celebrated in Architectural Digest

Pool with slatted wood “umbrella” canopy, Rudolph’s Umbrella House. Photo: Anton Grassl

Pool with slatted wood “umbrella” canopy, Rudolph’s Umbrella House. Photo: Anton Grassl

Paul Rudolph’s Centennial and the upcoming SarasotaMOD Weekend in November are featured in the latest online version of Architectural Digest. The article features photos of Rudolph’s Sarasota High School, Healy Guest House and the Umbrella (Hiss) Residence. We couldn’t agree more with the article’s conclusion:

A century after his birth, Rudolph is finally getting his full due for the residences he designed in Florida.
— Architectural Digest