Mark Lamster | Essays

Another Imperiled Paul Rudolph Landmark

With so much of our focus on the potential demise of Paul Rudolph's Orange Country Government Center, in Goshen, there hasn't been much conversation on the threat to another Rudolph landmark, his Sarasota High School of 1960. This is Rudolph's most important public commission in Florida, and a clear precursor to the landmark public commissions in the years following. Like so many Rudolph buildings, it presents a dramatic face forward, with a broad stepped entry leading into a double-height atrium open to the elements. The term "heroic," which some of us are hoping will displace "brutalist," for this aesthetic, certainly fits. A wonderful canopy of stepped, interlocking concrete T's protects students from Sarasota's frequent showers. The school was conceived on a campus plan, with a separate gym building and a classroom extension across an open quad. 
You may recall that Sarasota's school board, four years ago, demolished Rudolph's Riverview High School, a lamentable decision to say the very least. The plan for SHS is not total demolition, though Rudolph's gymnasium will be destroyed (the board claims, dubiously, that it can't be repurposed). The plan, instead, is to reorient the entire campus, and to transform Rudolph's double-height entry atrium into an enclosed media center. While it's nice to know that the school board isn't planning for the wholesale demolition of the building, this tranformation, among others to the complex, would utterly compromise the Rudolph's vision and the work itself. Preservationists and local architects are coming to the defense of the buildings under the aegis of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation.  

There are better alternatives. For starters, transforming Rudolph's gym into the desired media center. The SAF is leading the campaign to demand the School Board and Harvard Jolly Architects, chosen to undertake the renovation, respect Sarasota's patrimony, and rethink their plans for the building. I encourage you to visit the SAF website, for futher information on the building, its future, and what you can do to help protect it. But start by spreading the word.

A few images of SHS, and a couple of other Rudolph projects in Sarasota, in the following slideshow. 

Comments [5]

Some writers should recognize their own role in perpetuating "brutalism" as a term. I seem to remember hearing the B-word used in headlines on DO. It seemed like the term du jour in the blogs for a while there.
It seems obvious that there is a difference between good architecture and bad architecture, regardless of style, era, or term. Rudolph was a "good" architect, meaning his architecture ads authenticity to human life. His buildings are unique. The experiences are rich. Whereas a "brutalist" hack-job is not as good, because it is unoriginal. And the details aren't as good. Like a McDonalds or Home Depot, which does not add authenticity to human life.
Mike Lowe

Unfortunately there seems to need to be an element of sentimentality in the discussion of need to conserve or even retain a building. The sentimentality can be based in many things, weirdness, an attraction to better time, an attraction to an event.
Discussions on building retention on design merit are hard to win.
Discussions on the value of the works an architect are equally hard.
Particularly when the realised work represent a pragmatic and rational approach to a solution.

Is the conservation argument looking for a picturesque expression and description? Is Laura Ashley more approachable than Nana Ditzel?

On the other hand, I believe most architects would agree that their work does not represent a forever solution to any problem and use that develops over time. Many of us would expect the building to evolve to accommodate a changing occupation , use and landscape.

I am with Benito, the term "brutalism" needs to be struck from the critics dictionary. It is an information transposition into an English language.

I am the Communications Specialist for the Sarasota County School District.

Regarding Mark Lamster’s article on your website, “Another Imperiled Paul Rudolph Landmark,” the following two sentences are in error:

“The plan for SHS is not total demolition, though Rudolph's gymnasium will be destroyed (the board claims, dubiously, that it can't be repurposed). The plan, instead, is to reorient the entire campus, and to transform Rudolph's double-height entry atrium into an enclosed media center.”

In fact, a decision has not yet been made by the School Board of Sarasota County about whether or not to demolish the Paul Rudolph-designed gymnasium. Various options are being explored, including repurposing the gym as a cafeteria or media center, among other possibilities.

The enclosure of the Rudolph breezeway, or double-height entry atrium as the article describes it, is a possibility, but nothing has been finalized except the board’s commitment to saving that particular Rudolph building.

A design charrette is planned with the architect (Harvard Jolly), the construction company (Tandem Construction) and various community stakeholders to explore options for the Sarasota High School renovation. It has not yet been scheduled, but likely will be held sometime in June.

To say that the Rudolph gym building “will be destroyed” and that “the plan…is…to transform Rudolph's double-height entry atrium into an enclosed media center” is inaccurate, as plans have not yet been finalized. Nor did “the board claim…that (the Rudolph gym) …can’t be repurposed.”

In the future, we would appreciate being contacted by Design Observer writers for information and fact-checking. I have sent my contact information to [email protected].

I am glad to hear "nothing has been finalized" and "a decision has not been made" and "various options are being explored." The statement that the Board is committed to "saving" the main building is welcome but not especially meaningful if this salvation means compromise of its very integrity. Instead of double-talk, how about a commitment to respect the complex, not tear down the gym, and work with architectural and preservation "stakeholders" to find a way to satisfy the needs of the students and staff while bringing SHS into the 21st century? This is possible. Given the fate of Riverview, you will have to understand our skepticism.
Mark Lamster

In response to the comment by the representative of the School Board, I would like to make the following points….

1. Following the demolition of the Rudolph-designed Riverview High School in 2009, the School Board made the following commitment: "The School Board of Sarasota County agrees to appropriately rehabilitate the Paul Rudolph Addition to Sarasota High School" stipulation 07 714045 000 00 DS (Note: the Rudolph Addition includes a classroom building, a gym and the connecting locker rooms)

2. The 2012 "current plan" plan for the renovation of Sarasota High School, prepared by Board's staff (and given to the competing architectural firms) includes the following contradictory information...
• "Demolish the west gym..." (Note: this is the Rudolph-designed gym)
• "Enclosing the breezeway is essential to achieving the project objectives..." (Note: this breezeway is in Rudolph's classroom building)
• In a letter to the FL Department of Education regarding the classroom building... "The enclosed 1960 photo provides a clue as to the historic beauty of this building. It is an important contribution to the Sarasota School of Architecture (SSA), and the district is committed to reestablishing this building to its prior prominence..."

3. The Board has now agreed to hold a design charrette... the format of the charrette has not yet been determined.

4. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation is simply asking the School Board to honor its commitment to Sarasota and "rehabilitate the Rudolph Addition " "... to its prior prominence..." 

Jim Keaton
Sarasota Architectural Foundation
Jim Keaton

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