Ahead for iconic modern architect Carl Abbott: a retrospective exhibit and a glossy new book.
A high-profile few months lie ahead for Sarasota’s modern architect Carl Abbott. Large-scale photographs and drawings of his iconic designs go on exhibit June 29 through Aug. 3 at Ringling College’s Selby Gallery. And—after 15 years of his tossing around the idea—a glossy book of some 20 of his works, aptly titled In/Formed by the Land: The Architecture of Carl Abbott, will be published early this fall by Oro, an international publisher of architectural books. (Pre-orders are being accepted on amazon.com now.)
One of the last in the lineage of Sarasota School of Architecture designers that began with Paul Rudolph, father of the Sarasota School and, not coincidentally, his Yale School of Architecture professor, Abbott has won passels of awards for his clean-lined, geometric buildings, which jut, sweep and swirl to draw in the elements. “The sense of land, sky and water has always been strongly felt in my architecture,” he writes in his book. “We use geometric forms, but they break apart to get you out into nature. We’re about not always giving you everything. We let you solve part of it; you become part of the process.”
It’s a sophisticated concept, but one that’s readily apparent when you step inside an Abbott-designed building to see how the indoors and outdoors interplay, or when you see the cover of In/Formed by the Land, which features the swimming pool of a home he completed in St. Maarten.
In his introduction to In/Formed by the Land, architectural historian and professor Robert McCarter calls Abbott “an architect suspended between earth and sky.” Abbott “has practiced his craft with a consistency of aesthetic elegance and experiential quality unparalleled by almost any other architect of his generation,” he writes.
Abbott says it was McCarter, former director of the University of Florida School of Architecture and assistant dean of architecture at Columbia University, who prodded him to publish, telling him, “There has to be a book on your work; you’re doing things no one else is doing.”
Abbott came to Sarasota in 1959 after receiving his undergraduate degree from University of Florida to work with I.M. Pei associate Burt Brosmith on the design of the New College campus. He later received his master’s degree at Yale. Among his illustrious Yale classmates were Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, now international design superstars who have been granted the honorific “Lord.”
They both have contributed essays to the new book, as have renowned architectural critic Michael Sorkin and Peter Bohlin, who designed the sensational Apple glass cube building in New York. “My editor called them the hottest group of architects in the world,” says Abbott.
But first the Selby Gallery exhibit, in which some 10 projects—built and unbuilt—are dissected “in great detail,” the architect says. Models, large-scale photographs and images from the book (which was designed by Ringling College graphic design teacher Sean Harris) will be on display. Abbott expects the exhibit will travel to New York, London and St. Maarten when he does his book tour later in the year.
Gallery director Kevin Dean says he chose Abbott for just the third show the gallery has ever done on architecture because, “The Sarasota School [of Architecture] continues to influence people. In Carl’s work specifically, I respond to where he came from, and where he took it. That’s always the challenge: how do you get beyond his influences?” Abbott will lead a director’s tour July 9, and a bus tour highlighting his local work takes place July 14.
Abbott maintains close ties to UF. He taught there last year, and UF has invited Abbott to donate his archives to the school, “because I’m part of the Sarasota School and am also tied to the European movement with Norman Foster and Richard Rogers and because my office started with everything hand drawn instead of by computer, which is how everything’s done now,” he says. (He says he hasn’t decided if he’ll take them up on their invitation.)
Meanwhile, Abbott recently completed a home set on a long, narrow site on Lemon Bay in Englewood dubbed the South Bay estate, and another home set in 10 acres of jungle well east of Sarasota dubbed the Tropical Ranch House. A church project that had to be set aside when the recession hit is back on track, and he will start working on new residences in St. Maarten and Costa Rica. He’s also collaborating with architect Greg Hall on a beach house he says will be “more elegant and sweeping than it is exciting. It’s going to be one of our most beautiful houses, I don’t doubt that.” Construction should begin in early 2013.
Bargains await on Manasota Key.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of properties in the Sarasota County portion of Manasota Key
11 homes, 3 vacant lots
Number of sales from April 2011 through April 2012
$685,000 to $4.8 million
2012: Range of HOME sale prices
1,298 to 6,638 +
Range of square footage of sold homes
$700,000 to $1.4 million
Range of vacant lot sale prices
Even though single-family home prices on Manasota Key have dropped in half since the go-go mid-2000s, just two changed hands in the first four months of 2012, says Nelda Thompson of Nelda Thompson & Associates. “We started out the year with a lot of people looking, so it’s very disappointing,” says Thompson, who has sold on the beautiful barrier island that straddles Sarasota and Charlotte counties since 1985. “We have a high inventory right now, from big to small and from Gulf to bay. I’m amazed at the good buys, which in turn amazes me why people aren’t buying.”
Thompson, who moved here in 1978, is typical of the residents who’ve passed their properties down through the generations. She concedes that the island’s quiet character is not for everyone. “The Sarasota portion is in the conservation district created in the 1970s, and residents make a concerted effort to protect all the environmental things that make Manasota Key so special,” she says. “We’re not into mega-mansions and ostentatious landscaping; we think God did a pretty good job on his own. People come to live here because they want to get away from the hustle and bustle.”
Thompson says the south end of the key that lies in Charlotte County, where multi-family residences and motels predominate, saw “a bustling tourist rental season, better than it’s been in several years.”
TOP OF THE MARKET
March was a huge month for luxury home sales, with three changing hands for more than $5 million each. Top of the market at $7.1 million (after an original list price of $8.99 million in November): a five-bedroom, six-bath, 6,618-square-foot manse at 1255 Westway Drive in Lido Shores. Built in 2001, it’s set on 130 feet of New Pass waterfront.
Linda Dickinson of Michael Saunders & Company was the listing agent; Mark Huber of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty was the selling agent. Sales information provided by Kim Ogilvie of Michael Saunders & Company.