Kim and Richard’s Tiny House on Rita Street in Sarasota County, Florida is complete. We ride-tested this little tiny house for 5 days over the 4th of July weekend with a load of 4 people, and found that it rode pretty smooth.
We had more visitors – neighbors, West Coast acquaintances, and Rita fans – in 4 days than we had moving in may to Audubon Park. This perhaps speaks more about the West Coast lifestyle vs. the Central Florida lifestyle. Here people are busy, generally keep to themselves, and feel like they are intruding, I guess. In Sarasota, we had multiple visitors that came and enjoyed the Rita’s hospitality. We had real conversations with real people.
The Rita is set in a plane of white gravel which is near-zero maintenance. The boys found a shark’s tooth in the gravel. It is on short concrete piers with a 2′ high crawl space. Riding up on piers allows the land underneath to breathe and for the Rita’s ventilation to work properly like a true Cracker house.
The foundation is fairly solid. There were some interesting secondary vibrations through the house when the washing machine was on the spin cycle. Footsteps did not reverberate.
The front elevation expresses mobility, our age of motion accelerated. And yet it is very static, anchored to the land. The front wall is a grid that is thirteen wide by seven high, interrupted by a simple white band. These two prime numbers plus the partial end corners yield a rhythm that is both complete and incomplete at the same time. The lack of certainty in the front facade expression – nothing is an even number, the ends are slightly unresolved – references our current times of incomplete wisdom and a searching, a yearning for closure.
The central white band can be read in multiple ways. It emphasizes the door, a decidedly un-sarasota-school move (entries were de-emphasized by Rudolph and his peers, you just slipped between two floating plans and presto! you’re inside before you know it). Here the Rita presents the front door to you in a pure, white band.
An element, repeated thrice, has been a theme of our existence together even back in Hawaii days and extending to Norris. Chelsea and Rita both have the number 3 repeated in patterns, solids, and voids in its design.
The interior space, upon entering, fulfilled its requirement to have a series of interlocking functional areas that unite more than they separate. This is typical of nearly all tiny houses but it was particularly important with the vertical space to unite the loft. From 3 people to, at one time, eight, we had plenty of space and it did not feel crowded like a hotel room would if 8 people were in it.
The quality of light was diffuse and generally very high, and it changed throughout the day. The Rita is surrounded by the lush tropical rainforest of Florida’s lower west coast. The greens of the trees highlighted many of the colors inside and as the sun moved across the sky there was a delightful sense of time passing. It was as if the interior of the main space was a little bubble, holding a soft bright light inside.
The wasp-tail between the two wet rooms wasn’t too narrow. One wet room – holding two lavatories and a toilet – was surprisingly spacious. The other wet room had a shower and a tiny washer/dryer combo and it felt fine. It was the smallest room in the house but with a window it was not too claustrophobic.
The bedroom, with its niches, also felt significantly larger than it was, due to the high ceiling.
The loft was perhaps the most successful space of all. With one window facing north, up high, and another window facing west, down low, the loft was filled with stronger light but it had a “treehouse” sensibility being up in the trees. The boys seemed to enjoy it and rarely came down except during feeding times.
As a design experiment the Rita is more successful than I ever expected. Kim Mathis’ interior design talent helped to furnish the interior in a way that enhances the spaces. Scott Stoothoff, the builder, took great care with the construction, interpreting the design skillfully, and the result is an excellent living space with plenty of happy small details that he finished well, so the house will reveal interest and delight over and over again.
[see https://www.facebook.com/theritasarasota/?ref=bookmarks for photos].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.