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Interview Architect Carl Abbott IN/FORMED BY THE LAND

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Carl Abbott

By Leonardo Lunardi RA.

Photography by Giovanni Lunardi

Over the past few years Carl Abbott has worked steadily on designing the first book exclusively on his work. While the book only showcases a fraction of his award winning projects, it traces a common bond and direction throughout the rich diversity of his oeuvre. At the fringe of the International style, Abbott’s Architecture keeps Man as the focal point of an Architecture closely connected with Nature. His ability to respond to locality, to specific constraints of program, even to the vagaries of his clients without departing from this, singles Abbott out among his contemporaries as having mastered his Art.

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Forty-six years in a practice which is one of the most highly awarded firms in the Florida Caribbean region, and surely many buildings, not to mention an equal number of un-built projects and master plans, defines a prolific career by any standard, one that has seen the scope and scale of the work vary considerably over time. The work of Sarasota-based Architect Carl Abbott FAIA melds his interests in ancient design concepts, sculptural forms and the ever-changing dance of light and nature.

Carl Abbott’s work is spectacular and the new book does it justice, finding the ideas that generated the projects and using those same ideas to shape the printed page. Looking back, at his rich past, and forward, towards a promising future, Carl Abbott shares some insight into his new book.

What led you to produce a book?
This book started with Rober McCarter, who served both at Columbia University in New York and at the University of Florida as the Dean of the college of Architecture. He has published many books on Architecture, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Louis Kahn and more. About 10 years ago, after seeing many of our projects he said to me, “No one else is doing Architecture like you; and there has to be a book on your work” This piqued my interest and then my two close Architecture friends in London, Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, both agreed that there should be a book on my work – Their written articles are in my book.

How did you develop the storyline?
The direction of our work shaped the book’s story-line. From residential to commercial, our work is informed by the land, the angles of the sun and the environment in which it is built – This is the theme that carries throughout the book.

Is this a synopsis of your career or an opportunity to pay homage to Sarasota School of Architecture?
I don’t consider the book a synopsis of my career. I have many more projects, many of which have won awards, that have not been included. This has been a great opportunity for us to see where we have been and where we are going; I don’t see this as the end at all. The book is not about the Sarasota School of Architecture, it is about the work of my firm. The Sarasota School of Architecture is very important, I am the last of the original group of Architects still in practice. A good book on the Sarasota School of Architecture is available.

During the process what did you learn?
There is a tie between all our projects that has developed over the years. Our work has become more mature, less worried about the individual details and more concerned about the big picture – The spaces.

What was your favorite part of bringing the book to fruition?
Pulling it all together! The book was coming from so many directions, so many pieces of work spanning over 40 years – almost half a century. Working on the book was like re-living each of the 20 plus projects featured in the book. Finishing each section gave me a sense of closure before starting on the next one.

How long did it take and did you have any assistance?
The book took 9 months – Interesting that it would be 9 months. Earlier we spent a lot of time talking with several publishers. Most publishers design the book, then send it to the Architect for review only 2 or 3 times. I wanted to design it personally with the help of the people working directly with me – This was very important.

leonardo-lunardi-carl-abbott-sean-harrisLeft to Right – Leonardo Lunardi Carl Abbott Sean Harris

Sean Harris is the key to the design of this book. Sean first started working in this office when he finished his Graphic Design degree at Ringling College of Art and Design. Since then he has always had a tie with this office and with our work. Sean is now an Instructor at Ringling and, as a Graphic Designer, works on selected project in fine art, motion design, print and digital media.

Also in our office, you, Leonardo, provided help with several of the Project Images. Bitsy Lambert as well as my two sons provided help with the writing and editing. Also, I definitely want to mention Kim Elam, the head of Graphics at Ringling College of Art and Design. Kim has been an excellent friend and reference for the office since we first started talking about the book.

The publisher ORO who has offices in Hong Kong, Bejing, San Francisco, Montreal and Berlin also made many great recommendations which have become part of the finished product.

Can you tell us a bit about the format of the book?
The 250 pages book is designed like an Art or Photography book. When Sean Harris first started thinking about the book, he said,“This book should be done in landscape orientation; your buildings are mostly horizontal so the book should be horizontal as well”. Most Architectural books are done in a portrait orientation, so we had to start looking at Photography and Art books. Our book is 9”x 12”, with many images spanning two pages, 24” wide, full bleed. When turning the page, you are pulled in, moving through the project.

The book was designed to be appreciated on many different levels, as an Art book, Photography book, Architecture book and Study book. As an Architectural enthusiast, you can be lead through each project. As an Architect or Architectural student, you can follow each project, plans and sketches, and understand the process of design. We wanted some of the photographs to be unclear, dark, so that they would only be seen the second or third time the reader paged through.

When reading the book what will the reader walk away with?
Modern Architecture can be very warm, very humane, very much involved with the land and still have echoes of the machine, the International Style and Bauhaus. Clearly my work and the Sarasota School of Architecture is a combination of the two design philosophies.

Can you tell me a bit more about the title of the new Book “IN/Formed by the Land”?
I like the double entendere – In Formed or Informed, it has double meaning and it keeps flipping in my mind. The word Land to me infers broader concepts of earth, sky, water and the green environment – all of these elements are critical to our design philosophy.

What’s next for Carl Abbott?
We are already talking about another book, but that is not on the front burner at this time. Our current focus is on bringing in new large-scale projects for our office. Also i would like to be more involved in Archeology. I just returned from the Yucatan and am excited to see what these ancient civilizations did and how little we are aware of their contributions. The way buildings meet buildings, the way buildings turn a corner, these are the ways to tell if an Architect is really thinking, and the Maya were really thinking – The Architecture of the Maya is Wonderful.

Where can one find the book?
The book will be available by the end of February at book retailers such as Barnes and Nobles, Borders, and Amazon. It is currently available for pre-order. It will also be available internationally through the publisher.

What does it feel like to go through the complete book now that it is finished?
When we first got the pre-advanced copies from the Publisher, Sean and I just looked at them – We didn’t know if we should touch them or not. It was a mixed feeling, “We did it! Did we really do it ?!?”

It is good to have it done – It feels good.

Copyright © 2013 REAL Magazine
Links to this article are encouraged

Photography used under license from Giovanni Lunardi Photography
Photography Copyright © 2013 Giovanni Lunardi Photography

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