Sponsors - Beginning
Links - Networking
Links - Casey Key
Links - Additional Info
Bookshelf - Sarasota
  • Moon Florida Gulf Coast (Moon Handbooks)
    Moon Florida Gulf Coast (Moon Handbooks)
    by Laura Reiley
  • Exploring Florida's Gulf Coast Beaches
    Exploring Florida's Gulf Coast Beaches
    by George Hurchalla, George Hurchall
  • Sarasota, Florida: A Photographic Portrait
    Sarasota, Florida: A Photographic Portrait
    by Editors of Twin Lights Publishers Inc.
  • Clyde Butcher Florida Landscape
    Clyde Butcher Florida Landscape
    by Clyde Butcher
  • Living Waters: Aquatic Preserves of Florida
    Living Waters: Aquatic Preserves of Florida
    by Clyde Butcher
Bookshelf - SSA
  • The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966
    The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966
    by John Howey
  • Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses
    Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses
    by Ezra Stoller, Joseph King
  • Sarasota Modern
    Sarasota Modern
    by Andrew Weaving
  • Florida Modern
    Florida Modern
    by Jan Hochstim
  • Paul Rudolph: The Late Work
    Paul Rudolph: The Late Work
    by Roberto de Alba

 

...it has an ancient ring to it, conjuring up images of the origins of man and an early, primitive way of life. It connotes a time when architecture was based on intrinsic contextual criteria, and designs that met the basic, primary needs of safety and comfort were employed.

Buildings were necessarily simple, and the majority were constructed to fulfill peoples' daily shelter requirements. Built using readily available, local materials, they responded to regional climatic conditions in ways that maximized year-round comfort of their inhabitants.

Materially and functionally homogeneous as well as similar in size and configuration, further equality amongst residents was maintained by arranging individual units according to conventions that produced the desired results for the common good. Where breezes were desirable for cooling, units were configured to enhance it. If the climate was such that people would gain from being closer together, common walls separated units, creating the benefits that resulted from clustering.

As societies, and technologies, evolved, the requirement for significant cooperation among neighbors, beyond acting as law abiding citizens, diminished to nil. At the same time, uniformity was replaced by diversity, and context-responsive design was replaced with the most appealing (and profitable) visual style. Living subject to the environment has been replaced with living with what's on TV.

Context-responsive design benefits people beyond simply saving energy on cooling and heating bills. It encourages, if not necessitates, a reconnection to what is going on around us, enlightening and subjecting us to broader array of life experiences. Communal living is not going to return as a predominant way of life, but designing homes according to where and how we live will enhance individual lives in ways that help everyone.

To promote, initiate, and pursue projects that embrace this concept are the goals behind this site. As an "emerging architect", my objective is to contribute to reconnecting people with the world in which they live through thoughtful, responsible residential design.

 

INTRODUCTION

The impetus for this project came during a weekend jaunt that I recently took with my family. I had been pondering what I should do to organize some self-generated research that I had been doing, but as I meandered from topic to topic, the choices for formats kept changing with each turn. Finally, and as is often the case, a purely happenstance event occurred that clarified my thinking and became the catalyst for the journey that this site/project will become.

Picture of Nokomis / Casey Key BeachNokomis / Casey Key BeachOne nice, "winter" Sunday in February ('09), we decided to break from the norm and do something that we typically leave to visitors of sunny Sarasota, FL, from the north - go to the beach! After living here for almost 25 years, it is rare that we partake in what so many come here almost exclusively for, but thought it would be good to get out of the house for a bit to de-clutter (our minds, that is, not the house) and let our 5-year-old son torment some handout-seeking seagulls and pick through wave-washed shells for the odd shark's tooth.

Our destination was Nokomis Beach, a few miles south of Sarasota at the southern end of Casey Key. Less frequented than the very popular and world-renowned Siesta or Lido Keys, it's a bit more of a low-key, "local's" beach, especially if you get there early in the morning. As we topped the Albee Road Bridge, which allows access from the mainland to the southern end of the island, the horizontal roof line of the newly (2008) restored Nokomis Beach Pavilion (now re-named "Plaza") paralleled the horizon and the band of Gulf blue right in front of us. Parking options were plentiful at 9 AM and we slipped into a spot right next to the pavilion.

 

Approaching Nokomis Beach 

A Piece of History...

It was a pleasure to see that some of Sarasota's historical architecture has received the attention, and respect, that it deserves, which is not always the case (more on that topic in forthcoming site sections). Originally built in 1954, the Pavilion was architect Jack West's first independent design after his apprenticeship with Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph, all of Sarasota. The project exhibits characteristics typical of the Sarasota School of Architecture, including flat, thin, multi-planed roofs, post & beam structure, and an enclosed space constructed of stacked Ocala Block with high ribbon windows for daylighting. An event was held for the re-grand opening, which the local ABC TV news channel (video link) covered, as did the Sarasota Herald Tribune (video link).

 

Nokomis Beach Plaza

We spent a couple of relaxing hours moseying along the shore and, mentally cob-web free, decided to head home via Casey Key Road for a more scenic return trip. The Key is a barrier island roughly 8 miles long and less than 300 yards wide for its entire length. Separated from the mainland by Sarasota Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, it has waterfront property both on the bay (east) and Gulf (west) sides.

Picture of Casey Key, 2008 / from the northern end of the island looking southCasey Key, 2008 / from the northern end of the island looking south

A Fine Cruise...

The drive is a bit of a touristy thing to do, and folks generally cruise along at about 15mph, catching alternating views of the bay and the gulf between the homes that line the road. Riding a bicycle or jogging is also a great way to experience the ambiance, though one must be careful on the rather skinny 2-lane road. Making the leisurely trip in any fashion has always been a way to reconnect with what originally attracted me to the west coast of Florida - a remote, peaceful, quiet, tropical environment.

Casey Key has always been a rather exclusive area, yet in a refined, un-stuffy, no-pretense-required way, attracting residents with the means and desire to live in a low key, up-scale, private area, removed from the hub-bub of the mainland. It has an out-of-the-way ambiance that has been sought after as an escape/home to more than a few celebrities over the years, including tennis great Andre Agassi & actress/wife Brooke Shields (obviously quite awhile ago), Martina Navratilova (although she sold her property recently), author Stephen King, and a John Gotti associate (according to popular rumors), among others who prefer the anonymity that the island exudes, both in spite of and because of some of the homes there.

There are 418 single family homes/land parcels on the island (plus just a few privately owned motel-type "resorts" of very moderate scale, with all but one at the southern end near the aforementioned public beach) and the total build-out is limited to this number, thus maintaining/increasing property values based on the limited supply. There are no non-resort related commercial enterprises on the island and no public access to the beach north of Nokomis Beach. Current listing prices of homes for sale on the Key range from $1M to over $18M.

 

To Treasure Island and Back...

When the Key was first developed, mostly beginning with a 1920s building spree when the Key wasA Casey Key home built in 1970 temporarily renamed "Treasure Island" to spur sales (the Casey Key name was restored when the boom was over), homes were modest, single-story, beach bungalow type, adapted well to the sub-tropical setting. Approximately 25% of the existing homes were built prior to 1950, another 25% in the last 10 years. Over time, the Key attracted people desiring more up-scale homes, and, as new residents moved in, they chose to build a variety of larger, yet still-moderately scaled homes, often in Asian, Key West, West Indies, or Colonially-influenced styles, as well as some of a modernist typology. Some notable projects on the island include:

 

It had been several years since I last toured the Key and, while I expected that interim changes had occurred as Sarasota "progressed" by leaps and bounds, I had not imagined the extent to which its sense of place is being altered. What surprised me, and what became the "ah-ha" moment that generated this project, is the disturbing, if not gut-wrenching, fact that the island lifestyle that originally attracted people to choose it as a place to reside is being demolished, one house at a time.

 

Bigger is Better...

As time has progressed, it seems that some residents have believed not only in the need to build in step with rising land values, but with a substantial goal of one-upmanship as well. Original homes have been razed and ever-larger edifices are taking their place. With the movement to more grandiose projects has come an equally conspicuous departure from the original climate- and site-responsive designs. Lightness, transparency, and minimalism have been replaced with walls, mass, and faux decoration. Setting lightly and unobtrusively on the site has become total domination of the site, and being able to take advantage of the year-round breeze with large openings, louvers, and wide overhangs has been replaced by facades with un-shaded windows that will likely never be opened for fear of the salt-laden air damaging the expensive, fragile interior furnishings. Scale of new construction has been disregarded except to be bigger than the last project, regardless of what effect neighbors might incur, and "style" has gone from tropical to Tuscan. It seems that, fundamentally, homes on the Key are being replaced by monuments to egos, with little regard for what is "right" for the location.

 

Image of Rudolph's Cocoon House and recent Casey Key constructionRecent Casey Key "Beach" Houses

A Key Divided...

Not all Key residents are of the same mindset, nor do they approve of what is happening. Indeed, some are sufficiently opposed to the bigger-is-better trend to have initiated county discussion and consideration of imposing a moratorium on granting building permits to give them time to review and revise zoning criteria to correct deficiencies that allow it. In addition, some residents are moving forward with a proposal to incorporate and become a self-governing entity to give them more control over island activities, while others are understandably opposed to new rules and bylaws and adamantly reject the idea.

Zoning laws control what (e.g., only single-family homes, maximum of 2 stories) can be built in a particular area and building codes specify how it should be built. There are no guidelines on design of houses on the Key, residents preferring a live-and-let-live policy, assuming everyone will do the right thing for the concern of the community. This laissez faire approach has worked since the first people rowed themselves ashore many years ago, until now.

Without guidelines for what types of houses may be constructed on the Key, and without an awareness of what is context-appropriate, new property owners who want to make their mark are likely to select styles that they are familiar and comfortable with. Since there are undoubtedly more new residents from out of state (or country) than there are locals moving onto the Key, their choices of typologies are likely equally foreign and, ultimately, inappropriate.

 

Rules, Rules, Rules...

Promulgating design rules, regulations, or guidelines is not something that I would suggest or support to ameliorate the situation. Instead, I question the role of the architects involved with the offending projects and suggest that it is their professional, ethical, and moral responsibility to provide guidance and direction to clients to do the "right thing". Failing to do so would constitute a breach of trust that local residents, and society in general, should have in architects and puts them in category of puppets or, as Samuel Mockbee says, "house pets" of the wealthy. Unfortunately, this specific situation is neither unique nor isolated. Indeed, it is found on every barrier island in the area, on the mainland waterfront as well as inland, and exemplifies, I believe, an aspect of social misdirection that prevails almost universally.

An effort that I would be a strong proponent of would be to require a defined minimal effort to incorporate energy and water conservation and management systems in all new Casey Key construction. Perusing an aerial image of the Key, it is readily apparent that a relatively small percentage of houses have incorporated solar energy systems. With a majority of the island designated a wildlife/natural conservation area, and the wherewithal of the residents, it seems conceptually practical and reasonable that such measures would be supported by residents. Even without mandates, it should again be an obligation of architects to promote and encourage incorporation of such measures as part of a comprehensive, contextually appropriate design.

 

 

Where Are We Going...

The preceding discourse that started with a simple Sunday beach trip and has transformed into social commentary is presented to set the stage, in an admittedly round-about fashion, for what is to follow in this project. The images above portray two extremes, but are illustrative of what "was" and what "is" happening, architecturally, on Casey Key and in many other places. Answers to "how" and "why" this has come about are relatively straightforward, I think. This project will explore those issues as well as questions including "what should be done" and "what can be done" to make it right, which are somewhat more difficult to fully resolve (especially the latter). The objective is not about trying to change things in a big-picture sense, as naively tilting at windmills is not my thing. On a more personal and pragmatic level, the knowledge that will be generated will be self-enlightening and will help to direct and enhance my own efforts in trying to do the "right thing" with and for others.

To continue to follow this, the section on Ethics is the next phase in the process and is a discussion on the concept of ethics in the context of architecture and this project...

For an interesting diversion to see how this work fits in the 'bigger picture', see the Cultural Creatives link at the far right margin of this page, or Cultural Creatives - The (R)evolution.

 

Image of Gulf shoreline