Victor Lundy didn’t achieve the same fame as his Sarasota School of Architecture compatriot (and Harvard classmate) Paul Rudolph, but in his eight years in Sarasota (1951-1960), he designed some of its most innovative and beautiful buildings—among them St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Bahia Vista Street, with its elegantly swooping roof, the glass-walled South Gate Community Center on Phillippi Creek and the bold, geometric Warm Mineral Springs Motel in North Port.
Lundy and those buildings are the focus of the third annual Sarasota MODWeekend Nov. 11-13, with docent-led trolley tours, panel discussions and an opening night party where he will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, producer of MODWeekend.
“I’m really moved by that; it was totally unexpected,” the architect, now 93 and living outside of Houston, Texas, told us during a recent phone conversation.
“[Lundy] had a different design sense [from fellow architects Rudolph and Ralph Twitchell], but he was just as important,” says Janet Minker, executive director of the Sarasota Architectural Foundation. “In the last five years or so more attention has been paid to his work, which went way beyond Sarasota.”
A 2013 Smithsonian article on the occasion of his 90th birthday noted that Lundy is “admired as much for his sculptural sense of form as for his innovative use of engineering technology.” (In the mid-1960s Lundy was commissioned to create a series of “shade structures” for the terrace of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. He also designed the striking U.S. Tax Court building in D.C.)
Lundy is also a prolific painter and drawer—to this day, he says—and MODWeekend will open with an exhibit of his artwork at the Blue Pagoda Building on North Tamiami Trail and at the adjacent Art Center Sarasota. With its glass walls and bold blue-tiled roof, the pagoda, which he designed 60 years ago as a home for the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, may be his most visible local work. “The paintings are vibrant and breathtaking,” says Minker. The documentary, Sculptor of Space: The Architecture of Victor Lundy, also will be screened during MODWeekend, along with a Q&A with its producer, Joan Brierton.
Lundy says he’s looking forward to returning to Sarasota, which inspired him years ago with its natural beauty. “I came to Sarasota because of a house I was working on, and I was so captivated by its climate and color and the contact with water that I stayed for eight years,” he says.
He remembers working in his office on First Street in the 1920s Sarasota Times building, where painter Syd Solomon also taught art classes. “I’d work until 6, 7, 8 p.m. and then I’d go to Siesta Key and take swims out there at night,” he says.
Lundy says he was something of a “loner” and often worked for low fees. “Paul Rudolph and I had been friendly rivals at Harvard. In Sarasota, I gathered usually poor clients; Paul was a better operator. I charged $500 to design the Bee Ridge Church, and I did the drive-in church in Venice [long since demolished] for free,” he says.
“I think I received calls from a number of churches, mainly small congregations with limited budgets and often not sophisticated in the arts, because they figured for a church building an architect who was also an aspiring artist made sense. My architecture was my art form.”
Lundy left Sarasota in 1960, he said, after being passed over for the commission to design then-fledgling New College’s Hamilton Center, a commission that went instead to I.M. Pei. He says he’s looking forward to coming back.
Find a complete list of MODWeekend events at sarasotamod.com