Tiny House Library

The first of a three-part series, “The Tiny Houses of Sarasota,” aired Sunday evening at 5 with the Suncoast News Network.  The Rita has received the attention of this news network for its innovation.  This documentary may be viewed by clicking here.

 

A Building Concept, Inc. has been selected as the General Contractor for The Rita.  “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to build something small, but high-quality,” stated Scott Stoothoff, Owner of ABCI.  “The Rita promises to be an intriguing construction project.”

 

The Rita will be an advancement of the concept of the Solid State House.

The Rita

Plans for Tiny Houses are in demand.  The most recent plan, the Rita, incorporates key learnings from the Walker Guest House in terms of economy of materials and proportions.  The Rita will feature some of the same materials – painted plywood floors and walls, a modular kitchen – and be as open -plan as possible given the limited amount of space.

Dean Rowe’s MOSI museum today

H. Dean Rowe’s Museum Of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, desibuilt in 1978, was once a lonely outpost on Fletcher Avenue just before USF.  Today it’s surrounded by strip commercial, and the museum itself has expanded. The original structure is now a science magnet school with a new museum and other institutional facilities, but Rowe’s original remarkable structure has stood the test of time and created a singular space in Florida.

Rowe's structure, viewed from the plaza connecting it to a later addition

The building itself is dominated by two very large space frame roofs.  These are supported by cylindrical columns, some quite tall, that vary in length to allow the roof to fold down on its two long sides.  Rowe’s original concept was to shape the air, thermally venting it up between the two space frames and out.

The roof planes are not massive but rather have delicacy about them.  There’s something about the way the latticelike roof structure perches on the columns that is light, rather than heavy.   It serves to de-emphasize the roof even though it is large and dominates the space around it.

Under this roof, a series of trays stack up – two on one side, and three on the other.  The walls of these trays are infilled with concrete block, and all of this is left natural unpainted.  The scale of the roof makes these components, in turn, seem human in scale.  The softly curving ramp is a sculptural element at one end.

Interior space of the museum

Exposed utility systems – ducts, conduits, pipes – crisscross and are painted different colors to highlight them, a la Pompidou Center.  The building is, in fact, a subtle reference to this iconic Rogers & Piano museum.

Later, Antoine Predock added to the building, allowing Rowe’s original work to be converted to a school.  Rowe’s museum was a terrifically hard builing to build an addition to.  The way the roof slid over the building’s edges and captured vast amounts of space on either side must have been difficult to add to.  The two buildings touch but do not have a public access between them, and the only experience of them together is the plaza on the south side.

Predock’s roof forms and natural concrete reference Rowe’s design, but are subtly different.  Concrete corners in Predock’s are completely filled, rather than cut at 45 degree angles, a more difficult task for the workers but making the forms and shapes feel crisp.  Predock used a lot of stainless steel for steps, wall, and roof material, a new material blending well with the other aesthetic.

Predock’s single expressive form is a sphere of blue curtainwall, which is partly peeled and layered, to house a movie theater.  Occuring at one end of the structure, it provides a punch.

Unfortunately, every other addition since Predock has tended to dilute the power of the earlier work.  There’s a one-story blue roof building that looks like a shopping center; a ropes course structure that looks like it came out of a catalog, and a few other structures that clump around the main building.  Most stay a respectful distance.

Rowe’s structure is very, very simple in design, but hard for a viewer to grasp.  It took a few simple rules and made very unique spaces, a singularity of design, and Predock’s museum doesn’t really make things any clearerl  Like many of Rowe’s buildings, it references little in traditional architectural vocabulary, and instead creates its own completely.  This is one of its great strengths.  Only modern materials and technologies are used, and they are used to complete advantage:  the space frame was invented to carry very large spans, and it does elegantly.  Concrete was modernized to allow for unusual shapes and it has many; and the effect is a uncelebrated icon of twentieth century achievements.  The fact that it is in Florida simply reinforces the West Coast experimentalism that started with the Sarasota School in the 1940s and extended into a new generation.

I wish they took better care of Rowe’s  building, for it is full of dust and the walls are smeared with multicolored tropical mildew and goo.  At its base, the building has acquired the accoutrements of public schools – plastic playground equipment, chain link fences, random locked storage units.  It has the somewhat desultory air of a crashed airplane, its wings drooping over the landscape and reinhabited by innocent locals.

School bus dropoff area

Destination Resorts

As the world’s stresses increase, destination resorts are in demand to help balance one’s lifestyle.

Samana Village, Republica Dominica

Samana Village, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, is envisioned by its founder Felipe Ferrer to be a sustainable development extension of the adjacent town of Samana.

All Pines

All Pines, in the jungles of central Belize, is an exclusive boutique resort.

JW Marriott, Phuket

The J. W. Marriott, on Mai Kao Beach in Phuket, Thailand, is a four-star destination beach resort.

Chemuyil Hotel

Chemuyil, in Quintana Roo, Mexico, is a 130 Hectare mixed-use development interlaced with a cenote (underground river) and open space for horseback riding, biking trails, and water sports.

The resurgence of destination resorts points to a growth in the world’s travel market.  Ad a designer who led all of these efforts, and contributed to many more, I am pleased to see the world’s luxury market return.

East End District Arises

East End’s midcentury modern integrity makes it a desirable place to live.
The street markets and rich sidewalk life attracts creatives, thinkers, and doers.
Building with the East End’s bohemian character, these residences capture
the spirit of the postwar period with two models:
–The Jack, an affordable residence gently inserted into the neighborhood
–The Al, a slightly larger home slipped into a narrow lot between homes.
For more on this exciting new development, go to the East End Project Page.

Historic District Ordinance in Winter Park passes

Park Avenue (courtesy Winter Park Public Library archives)

Late in the evening of November 9, the Winter Park City Commission passed 3-2 a revision to the Historic Preservation Ordinance.  This revision strengthens the ordinance and brings Winter Park into the orbit of cities with reasonable protection of their historic resources.  The City Commission did the right thing.

No small controversy surrounded the vote.  Heritage tourism, a sense of place, and nicely rising property values will be part of the future – what’s not to like?
Apparently, a lot.  A huge campaign was mounted against the ordinance revision, putting out pictures of houses wrapped in chains, and merrily smearing supporters on facebook.
As it turned out, the campaign was stirred by a small private interest group that was ultimately unable to sway the majority of the commission away from approval.
Winter Park already has an historic preservation ordinance.  Its weaknesses, however, were identified several years ago.  The Historic Preservation Board, a volunteer group, has few qualifications for service.  Demolition permits can be granted without Board review, so historic resources may be removed without any documentation.  And, most importantly, the requirement to form an historic district was 67% approval by all homeowners involved, a supermajority.
One aspect of the ordinance wasn’t passed.  No qualifications are needed to serve on the Historic Preservation Board, making this board open to “stacking” by special interests, and making Winter Park an outlier amongst cities that operate such bodies.
Delaying demolition permits by 30 days will give the city staff time to assess a home’s historic value, was unpopular and scrapped in the final ordinance. The language of Monday night’s ordinance may need some more cleanup in this respect, but the essence of the delay was preserved.  This delay only applies to structures on the city’s historic resources listing.  Delay allows documentation of a structure, even if it succumbs to the bulldozer’s cruel blade, and sometimes gives the home’s owner a time to reflect.
That wasn’t what the shouting was all about, however.  Reducing the supermajority of homes to a simple majority caused an outcry.  If historic districts can form more easily, a few people wrongly feared the restrictions as a reduction in property rights.  Spectres of design police were waved, warning of things that never happen in historic districts – homes wasting away, realtors driving Volkswagen Rabbits….  Residents, stirred by these concerns, spoke to the City Commission about their doorknobs and paint colors.  Surely these would still be OK?
The Mayor and Commission were overcome by common sense, a refreshing change in today’s regrettably polarized, shrill political climate.  This ordinance won’t constraint property rights any more than building codes or the current ordinance does. Instead, the ordinance merely ensures democracy in the formation of historic districts, a good thing in a town that values history like  Winter Park.  Like Jackie Onassis once said about historic structures, “they belong to everybody.”
The City Commission made the correct move.  Clearing the way for historic districts to blossom will increase tourism to Winter Park and protect property values in a city that already enjoys high rates of return.  Our children and grandchildren may just have something from the past left over to point to.  Bulldozers can still roll freely through the streets, and people who want to live in historic neighborhoods will cluster there.  People who want to live in new homes will cluster in new developments like Windsong or Baldwin Park.  Everyone wins.
Unfortunately, the ordinance must still survive intact after two more public readings.  At each public reading, it is subject to further tweaks. One such tweak, snuck in at the very end, has already reduced its teeth.  A proposal by one commissioner was floated to make the minimum size of a district 12 contiguous homes.
On the surface, that seems reasonable.  The word contiguous, however, should be struck on the next reading.  Winter Park, a small municipality, is rich in small enclaves of historic structures, but it is going to be difficult to form a district out of 12 that actually all touch.  The current district of Virginia Heights may not even comply with this request.
So what the large print giveth, the fine print may taketh away…like a planet moving in retrograde, Winter Park’s compliance with national historic district standards seemed to move closer to the center, but with this one troubling addition, it may shift back out towards the darkness of individualistic space where so many of our social issues seem to shift.
It is important for the next two readings to remove the word “contiguous” and maintain the ordinance revisions just as they were specified over two years ago.  This will give Winter Parkers a chance to enjoy the quality of place that has come to be associated with their city, allow assets to appreciate, heritage tourism to expand, and keep the broadest possible benefits available to the largest number of people.