It’s no Palace of Versailles, but the Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) has reproduced Paul Rudolph‘s 1952 Walker Guest House on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art. Using Rudolph’s plans and Ezra Stoller‘s interior photographs, the foundation commissioned a faithful replica, down to the magazines on the coffee table.
The replica will cost SAF approximately $150,000. It will be faithful to the original, minus the bathroom, which will be supplanted by a wheelchair-accessible ramp. The house will welcome visitors starting November 6th, part of opening festivities for SAF’s SarasotaMOD Weekend.
The original Walker Guest House is a 24-foot-by-24-foot foot structure constructed from “off the shelf” materials for the Walker family on Sanibel Island, off the Gulf Coast. The house still stands. Why build a replica?
As SAF board member Dan Snyder explained, unlike other cities tearing Rudolph’s architecture down, Sarasota is a “city that loves Rudolph.” The Walker Guest House is privately owned, and Sanibel Island is only accessible via boat. The Ringling has 250,000 annual visitors, so having the replica house on its grounds will introduce Rudolph’s work, and the Sarasota School of Architecture, to a wider audience.
Indigenous to Florida’s west coast, the Sarasota School melded the international style with the organic school of Frank Lloyd Wright while responding to the demands of a subtropical climate. The Walker Guest house, Snyder noted, “blurs the distinction between inside and outside, stealing space from the outside so the house seems much larger.”
The house is calibrated to respond to the seasons. Its three, eight-foot-by-eight-foot panels are flanked by retractable exterior shades that shield the house from excessive summer sun, but allow light to penetrate in the winter, when the temperature drops into the 60s. Its exoskeleton functions as a wraparound porch and a support system for the pulleys, weighted with red concrete balls, that control the shades.
Members of the SAF visited the original house to document the interior and exterior for the replica project. To many, “1950s Florida” means tacky pastels and a flock of lawn flamingos. In contrast (or perhaps in protest), Rudolph’s interior color palette is subdued grey to “draw [your] eye to the outside,” Snyder explained. Referencing Stoller’s photographs, the Rudolph-designed coffee table, dining table, bookcase, and sofa were reproduced. Queens-based furniture designer Richard Wrightman was commissioned to recreate the living room’s officer’s chairs. Adhering strictly to their standards of authenticity, the team purchased Time, Fortune, and Playboy magazines from 1953, and placed them as they appear in Stoller’s images.
A parallel exhibition, Paul Rudolph: The Guest Houses, at the Ringling features photographs, models, drawings, and writings. The exhibition runs through December 6th.