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Carl Abbott FAIA The Sarasota School of Architecture

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Carl Abbott FAIA

The Sarasota School of Architecture

Featuring the Dolphin House

By Pamela Hughes

Photography by Giovanni Lunardi

Driving down the narrow twisty lane, you sense a disconnect with urban Sarasota. Taking a turn off the road one quickly plunges into lush vegetation and soon arrives at the office of renowned architect Carl Abbott. Holding true to his design style, Carl’s 1920’s office both embraces nature and exhibits the Sarasota School of Architecture for which he is famous. The home originally built by John Ringling for his banker in “out in the woods” Yellow Bluff is now preserved and represented on the local historical register.

carl-abbott-gifCarl Abbott is not only a well-known practitioner of architecture, with a string of awards that encompasses his long and continuing career, but a man who is generous with his time and congenial in spirit.

Early on Carl’s creative world was art and nature, then architecture became his focus. He received his Master’s from Yale studying under Paul Rudolph (Dean of the school), Louis Kahn and Buckminster Fuller. Following Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph to Sarasota after his education, Carl became a member of this exceptional group of architects defining the Sarasota School of Architecture.

Stepping out on his own in the 1960’s, Carl has added richly to the local collection of unique and daring buildings. His career has produced a remarkable portfolio of bold and exciting residential projects as well as public and institutional buildings. Projects currently underway include a large therapy center, new church center and several large residences (including an estate on Long Island).

For the past four decades, Carl’s Sarasota architectural office has been one of the most highly awarded firms in the Florida/Caribbean region. Carl has worked in New York City, Honolulu and London, and has taught at a number of universities including Harvard Graduate School of Design. Locally, his projects include the Summerhouse, St. Thomas More Complex, Woman’s Resource Center and Pine View School. Light is a dominant element in Carl’s designs.

dolphin-house-living-roomCarl minces no words when it comes to historical preservation. “In the U.S. we tend to think we are progressive. If we tear it down and rebuild it must be better. We don’t hold on to things that are important,” he states with authority. “In Europe they respect their current and past history – they always keep the best examples as they progress forward.”

Carl elaborates that architecture begins as a spontaneous process but soon becomes bogged down in engineering layers. His goal is to always achieve a sense of spontaneity at the end of a project, finishing with a structure that is right for the location, use and owner.

Outside of architecture and lecturing, Carl’s hobbies are “spontaneous” ones. He enjoys painting, forging sculpture and landscaping, especially with exotic flowering trees. Once or twice a year for the past fifteen years Carl journeys to Esalen, a new age retreat in California, to recharge his batteries enabling him to stay creative. An avid worldwide traveler, he appreciates the continuing sense of beauty, purpose and design he experiences. One of the places leaving an indelible impression is Egypt, where Carl marvels at their accomplishments and indicates we should look past the Greeks to the Egyptians for significantly influencing the history of architecture.

Carl is a leading spokesman for the Sarasota School of Architecture. In Carl’s words the challenge with the Sarasota School is distilling the design concept to its basic components.

dolphin-house-exteriorThe Sarasota School of Architecture
In the first half of the 20th century, architecture seemed to be evolving in two different directions: Frank Lloyd Wright coming from a world influenced and inspired by Nature, developing an “organic” architecture; and the International Style, originating in Europe, particularly at the Bauhaus, in Weimar, Germany, which acknowledged the effect of the machine in the built environment.

The Sarasota School seems to embrace elements of both of these philosophies, so here’s a bit of its family tree.

From Nature’s Realm:
Frank Lloyd Wright, from Chicago, was the nearest architectural ancestor. He not only embodied the philosophy of organic architecture, but also had a considerable body of work in Florida, including residential projects as well as the magnificent campus of Florida Southern College in nearby Lakeland. He had close ties to the offices of Louis Sullivan, whose works are embellished with fanciful designs derived from natural forms. Sullivan, in turn, was related to the bold, strong work of H. H. Richardson. And they were both influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, originating in Scotland and England, which revered the handmade and was inspired by the natural world.

Honoring the Machine:
dolphin-house-dining-viewA movement which honored the machine-made also grew out of Europe. This aesthetic was distilled in the design school known as the Bauhaus, or International Style. That style is characterized by a more scientific and rational approach to design and the elimination of ornamentation – and the philosophy that “form follows function”. The school was founded by Walter Gropius and then guided by Mies van der Rohe. These two later came to America – Gropius to head the architecture department at Harvard and Mies to become one of the iconic architects of post-war industrialized urbanity. His Seagram Building in New York became the epitome of the style. And Gropius’ influence is still felt, from his legacy at Harvard and, related to our discussion, in one of his pupils, Paul Rudolph.

Paul Rudolph became the progeny of these two apparently disparate philosophies. He moved to Sarasota from Harvard and started working at the welcoming and accepting office of Ralph Twitchell.

dolphin-house-stairsTwitchell was already an established architect in Sarasota and one known to encourage a daring and experimental approach. He arrived in Sarasota to assist the architect of Ca d’Zan, then under construction. What he soon came to learn was that old methods of construction that might work in northern climates, do not fare well in our intense southern climate with sun and humidity as predominant factors.

In the early 1940’s Twitchell and Rudolph embarked on a series of small houses and projects that helped put Sarasota on the map architecturally. Within several months, the office produced designs for Twitchell’s own residence and three other houses. 

These projects marked a new direction for the office, which shows the influence not only of Rudolph, but also of ideas that can be traced to Wright. Elements such as horizontal strip windows and differentiated ceiling heights to separate service and living spaces are among these new ideas. 

After the war, when the office was reassembled, exciting new materials and technologies were tried. Rudolph’s famous Cocoon House, sitting lightly above the land and cantilevered over the water on one side with its daring curved plywood roof plane, made it a small house with a powerful impact.

dolphin-house-barThe Walker Guesthouse on Sanibel Island was one of Rudolph’s favorites. It is a charming and clever project that encloses a modest living space, but expands it remarkably by the use of a framework that extends beyond the walls. This frame supports a series of shutters that hang against and protect the glass or screen walls when closed and becomes sunshades when lifted to open.

Later, when Rudolph became Dean of Architecture at Yale, his students were influenced by the principals of the Sarasota School of Architecture – that influence is now seen around the world. We are all the beneficiaries and students of the Sarasota School. We have Paul Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell and Carl Abbott to thank for these timeless designs.

Carl Abbott FAIA
(941) 351-5016
www.carlabbott.com

The Dolphin House – Siesta Key

By Carl Abbott FAIA Architect/Planner

dolphin-house-porchThe dramatic view lines to the city, across the bay establish the design direction. The small, irregularly-shaped site has water on two sides – to the north, a lagoon which opens to the large bay, to the east a narrow canal. The house is an active sculptural form which opens wide to the distant views.

“The view lines – the force lines of all spaces in the house reach out across the bay to the city. The building consists of Two Towers (the more enclosed private areas) and a Central Room (the all glass public areas). The large Central Room has a great floating roof: the high end is diagonally across from the low end – focusing the view down to the narrow canal to the east and to the west a focused view to the sky and sunsets.

From the road the house reads as a compact form behind the long property wall. The building elements are step-backed to make the house compatible with the neighborhood. Walls and stairs are angled – telescoping to accentuate the dramatic view lines. A vertical sun-slot faces south, filling the interior with seasonal changing rays of light.

Upon entering, the house appears to float on the bay. The lagoon in front of the house is a playground for an activedolphin-house-dining-roomfamily of dolphins.

Copyright © 2010 REAL Magazine

Links to this article are encouraged

Photography used under license from Giovanni  Lunardi  Photography

Photography Copyright © 2010 Giovanni Lunardi

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3 Responses to “Carl Abbott FAIA The Sarasota School of Architecture”

  1. Lia Martin says:

    Carl Abbott is one of the greats. It is my ambition and desire to have a house designed by Carl one day. A great guy, a true professional. To a true genius, thank you.

  2. Martie Lieberman says:

    Carl Abbott’s architecture stands as a strong and important body of work that began during “Sarasota School of Architecture” period, and continues to this day. Carl Abbott is an amazing architect, teacher and community activist on the Gulf Coast of Florida, with fans and connections all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Carl on many projects where he teaches students, visitors and architecture fans about Sarasota’s modern architecture, and I look forward to learning more from this great architect and friend. Thank you for this post.

  3. Gary Sankes says:

    I consider it a privilege to live in one of Carl’s houses. The man is a true genius !!!! You are one with nature when living in his house.

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