Umbrella Residence

TWO RESIDENCES BY PAUL RUDOLPH LISTED WITH THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

Paul Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” from 1953—as seen in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s “Umbrella House” from 1953—as seen in 2018. Photo: Kelvin Dickinson, Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation Archives

Paul Rudolph’s Fullam Residence, from 1959. Photo: Chris Mottalini and Eric Wolff

Paul Rudolph’s Fullam Residence, from 1959. Photo: Chris Mottalini and Eric Wolff

SOME GREAT NEWS

When there’s news about any of Rudolph’s buildings, it’s not always good: too often, we’ve heard about the act (or plan) to demo or damage one of Paul Rudolph’s great designs. But sometimes there is delightful news: for example, the recent purchase of Rudolph’s Hirsch (a.k.a. Halston) Residence by Tom Ford—and Mr. Ford’s stated intention to restore it—which you read about in one of our recent posts, is an example of great news about a Rudolph building!

Now we have some more good news!

Two of Rudolph’s most interesting residential designs—the Fullam Residence (in Bucks County, PA) and the “Umbrella House” (in Sarasota, FL) have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places !

THE UMBRELLA HOUSE

Readers of this Blog may have come across our article about Rudolph’s “Umbrella House”—but in case you haven’t seen it, you can read it (and learn a great deal about this fascinating design) here.

The “Weekly List” of the National Register of Historic Places now shows that it is listed with them. Here’s the page on which this is announced.

And the official listing reads:

FLORIDA, SARASOTA COUNTY,
Umbrella House,
1300 Westway Dr.,
Sarasota, MP100003417,
LISTED, 2/4/2019
(Sarasota School of Architecture MPS)

THE FULLAM RESIDENCE

The “Weekly List” of the National Register for Historic Places shows that it now listed with them. Here’s the page on which this is announced.

And the official listing reads:

PENNSYLVANIA, BUCKS COUNTY,
Fullam, John and Alice, House,
372 Brownsburg Rd.,
Wrightstown Township, SG100003519,
LISTED, 3/15/2019

By-the-way:

This is a good moment to make a note on the house’s (and original client’s) correct name. The accurate spelling is: Fullam (as shown in the National Register listing above). We only point this out because one sometimes sees it listed as “Fulham”—and that’s led to some confusion when doing research.

ABOUT BEING LISTED ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER

WHAT CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION ARE USED, WHEN THEY CONSIDER A BUILDING, SITE, OR STRUCTURE FOR “LISTING”?

Let’s let the National Park Service (of which the National Register is a part) speak for themselves. The range of possible reasons for listing are fascinatingly varied—and here is their document about “NATIONAL REGISTER CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION”:

Criteria for Evaluation

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

  • That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

  • That are associated with the lives of significant persons in our past; or

  • That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

  • That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

Criteria Considerations

Ordinarily cemeteries, birthplaces, graves of historical figures, properties owned by religious institutions or used for religious purposes, structures that have been moved from their original locations, reconstructed historic buildings, properties primarily commemorative in nature, and properties that have achieved significance within the past 50 years shall not be considered eligible for the National Register. However, such properties will qualify if they are integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria or if they fall within the following categories:

  • A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or

  • A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or

  • A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building associated with his or her productive life; or

  • A cemetery that derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or

  • A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or

  • A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or

  • A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR A BUILDING TO BE “LISTED” ON THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES—AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Once again, we’ll let them speak for themselves. The following is excerpted from their own information pages:

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archaeological resources.

How are Properties Evaluated?

To be considered eligible, a property must meet the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. This involves examining the property’s age, significance, and integrity.

  • Age and Integrity:  Is the property old enough to be considered historic (generally at least 50 years old) and does it still look much the way it did in the past?

  • Significance:  Is the property associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past? With the lives of people who were important in the past? With significant architectural history, landscape history, or engineering achievements? Does it have the potential to yield information through archaeological investigation about our past?

National Register Listing Process

Proposed nominations are reviewed by your state’s historic preservation office and the state’s National Register Review Board. The length of the state process varies but will take a minimum of 90 days.

Complete nominations, with certifying recommendations, are submitted by the state to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. for final review and listing by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service makes a listing decision within 45 days.

Results & Owner Information

Listing in the National Register of Historic Places provides formal recognition of a property’s historical, architectural, or archaeological significance based on national standards used by every state.

Results include:

  • Becoming part of the National Register Archives, a public, searchable database that provides a wealth of research information

  • Encouraging preservation of historic resources by documenting a property’s historic significance

  • Providing opportunities for preservation incentives, such as:

  • Federal preservation grants for planning and rehabilitation

  • Federal investment tax credits

  • Preservation easements to nonprofit organizations

  • International building code fire and life safety code alternatives

  • Possible State tax benefit and grant opportunities. Check with your State Historic Preservation Office for historic property incentives available within your state

  • Involvement by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation when a Federal agency project may affect historic property

  • Find out information on the care and maintenance of your historic property through various NPS Preservation Briefs and Tech Notes

  • Network with other historic property owners, tour historic areas, or chat with preservationists through Conferences, Workshops, and Preservation Organizations

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.