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Architecture Is Art

The city’s treasures affirm the importance of appreciating and preserving architectural art.

Presented by Center for Architecture Sarasota March 1, 2021

The South Gate Community Center, designed by Sarasota School architect Victor Lundy

Sarasota has a long history of attracting creative people. Painters, sculptors, performers, authors, and architects have all been drawn to our area. Architects in particular create civic art that the entire community has the pleasure of enjoying. Whether you are walking by the Kress Building on Main Street, enjoying a meal at Sage in the former Sarasota Times building, viewing art at the Sarasota Museum of Art in the repurposed Sarasota High School, or enjoying an exhibit at the Center for Architecture Sarasota in the historic Scott Building, it is obvious that architecture is a vital piece of Sarasota’s art collection.

Sculptural work by Jack Cartlidge outside Jack West's Sarasota City Hall

Once here, the artists who came to Sarasota challenged and inspired each other to create and expand their works. A great example of this artistic collaboration is Jack West and Jack Cartlidge. Architect Jack West was a prominent member of the Sarasota School of Architecture who designed modern buildings. Jack Cartlidge was a sculptor who created a new technique of hammering copper to resemble bronze. Although their styles were vastly different, the two artists found that they complemented each other well, and Cartlidge’s large pieces are often strategically placed near West’s buildings. A great example is Sarasota City Hall: several of Cartlidge’s pieces are on the grounds of this West building, providing a showcase of their unique collaboration.

When you begin to recognize these buildings as pieces of art, then it is easy to understand the importance of preserving these works. Mable and John Ringling’s mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, a masterpiece designed by Dwight James Baum, is a wonderful example of a successful renovation. Not only do we now get to enjoy the beauty of the home, but it has also become a symbol of Sarasota. The restoration efforts on the Municipal Auditorium by Solstice Planning and Architecture, on the Umbrella House by Hall Architects, and on Brentwood Elementary by Sweet Sparkman Architects all provide inspiration and hope for our historic buildings.

New College of Florida's Pei Dorms

Unfortunately, not all of our local buildings have been as lucky as these. John Sawhill, former president of New York University, is quoted as having said, “In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” It is important to recognize that these buildings are significant beyond their aesthetic beauty; they are also part of our local heritage. The Pei Dorms and the South Gate Community Center are two local buildings that are currently in need of our support.

New College of Florida has housing that was designed by I.M. Pei, the world-renowned architect whose designs include the Kennedy Library and the Louvre pyramid. In addition to this architectural significance, the space also symbolizes Sarasota’s strong embrace of education. Another building in need of restoration is the South Gate Community Center. Designed by Victor Lundy, this building exemplifies the Sarasota School of Architecture’s vision to include the beautiful outdoors in the design. This is a space meant for community, and it will take the love of that community to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy it.

Just as artists have come together in the past to create these works, collaboration is required to preserve them. Public and private resources must work together to restore, repurpose, and document these buildings that are pieces of art and part of our heritage. The Center for Architecture Sarasota’s exhibit, Designing Sarasota: An Architectural History, includes resources for those who would like to be part of the efforts to save these buildings.

Designing Sarasota is on display from now through April 17, 2021. This is a free exhibit, but reservations are recommended due to limited capacity; visit cfasrq.org/events. Designing Sarasota was made possible through collaboration with the Sarasota Architectural Foundation, the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, and the AIA Gulf Coast Chapter.

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