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In Conversation: Carl Abbott and Michael Saunders

Two longtime innovators in Sarasota share their thoughts on the power and appeal of modern design.

Presented by Sarasota Architectural Foundation November 11, 2020

Carl Abbott (left) and Michael Saunders

Legendary architect Carl Abbott, FAIA, and real estate doyenne Michael Saunders both grew up in Sarasota and established their careers here in the 1970s. They recently sat down together to discuss how architecture should account for the client, the land, the light, and more.

Michael Saunders: I can remember those houses on Lido Shores that you did. They were works of art.

Carl Abbott: I loved those two houses on Lido Shores. Both are gone now, but the first house, the beach house, was very formal, almost museum-like. The other clients, for the south house, wanted something very different, much more casual, much more informal. That south house only had about 20 feet of water frontage. We were really playing with that land to get the water view in.

MS: What I love is that you really look at the site, listen to the client, and then you create magic. You create art. You have a conversation with the client, you have a conversation with the land, you have a conversation with the light. And then you put it all together.

CA: And we get going with the contractor, early. It’s a team. You have to have a good team with everything, certainly with architecture.

MS: I grew up here, with the gentle waves, sand in my shoes, and light streaming in at the north end of Longboat, so your architecture speaks to me.

CA: My parents both grew up in Apalachicola, Florida, and my mother, when she was a teenager, used to visit Bradenton because one of her older brothers lived there, and so she knew about Sarasota. And she said Sarasota, to her, has always been this community of very aware people, who have somehow a different outlook. It’s a greater awareness of what the environment and architecture can do for you.

MS: And look at your legacy—not only Lido Shores, in Hidden Forest and Casey Key. You once showed me a house you built in the Dutch Antilles.

CA: Everything depends on the site and the location. Every residence is not like every other residence. Some are small, they’re playful, they’re fun. Some are mansions, they’re fortresses. They’re all different scales.

MS: It’s that marriage of the environment with that industrial edge that doesn’t take away from bringing the outside in.

CA: Most people think of the Sarasota School as Paul Rudolph, Twitchell, and certainly Phillip Hiss. When Paul Rudolph became head of the architectural school at Yale, I chose to go there because I had met him one time here in Sarasota, and I knew he would bring in architects from around the world to be our teachers. Rudolph didn’t want you to copy him. He said, “I’m always changing. I want you to find yourself.”

MS: You’re a master of the sense of surprise.

CA: We want things you don’t expect. We want your eye to go sweeping through. And to throw you out into nature, that’s always my goal.

MS: Why do you think we’re seeing this resurgence of love for modern architecture?

CA: Michael, I’ve heard this said many times by other people: We as human beings tend not to like what our parents liked; we tend to like what our grandparents liked. I think there’s a greater awareness today of what modern architecture can be, and what it can do for you.

MS: So, we both have worked like crazy since the ’70s. You have created things that I am so honored to be able to list and sell, and my agents say that they get the highest price, they sell in the shortest period of time, and they always sell to the right buyer because the interesting thing is, when people walk in, they either love it or they hate it. There are no mixed feelings for true modern architecture.

CA: Totally agree.

MS: Well this has been a real honor and a pleasure.

CA: Our five minutes are up?

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