Architecture Foundation Seeks to Save Canopies

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Architects in the region are expressing anger that renovation plans at the Sarasota Museum of Art today call for the destruction of canopies connecting the museum site with the Paul Rudolph-designed Sarasota High School. “They have work by one of the most important architects of the 20th century and they are treating it like junk,” said Sarasota architect Carl Abbott.

Officials with Ringling College of Art and Deisgn, which has overseen the plans for the museum, maintain the canopies were not actually part of Rudolph’s vision. “We are removing a small section of the total canopy – the area necessary to continue renovation of the historic Sarasota High School building,” reads a statement from Ringling College. “We also believe, but do not have final corroboration, that the section we are taking down is also not part of the original Paul Rudolph design but was added on later.”

After being flooded by emails as a result of a campaign by the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, Ringling College president Larry Thompson also sent an email further explaining the college's decision. "As you know, we have been at this project for many, many years and we have explored all options regarding the canopies," Thomspon wrote in the e-mail, made public by the foundation. "Quite frankly there is no way to keep the canopies that are along the historic high school without destroying our entire project to save the high school. We are only taking out a small section (about 50 feet of the canopies) that impact the reconstruction and adaptive reuse of the building."

The Sarasota Architectural Foundation says the assertion the canopies are not Rudolph originals is untrue, and provided photographs from 1960 showing the canopies. Rudolph designed what is now the main campus from Sarasota High in the late 1950s, an extension to the east of the historic Sarasota High building fronting Tamiami Trail. The canopies, which bear the modern look of the Rudolph campus, connects to the south side of the historic structure, which will house SMOA. “It’s a very important visual link connecting one complex to the other,” said Dan Snyder, SAF board member. The Paul Rudolph Foundation says the canopies are “integral” to the design concept for the school.

Rudolph, who died in 1997, is widely regarded today as the most important figure in the Sarasota School of Architecture. Past fights to preserve his work, notably the effort to save historic parts of Riverview High, received worldwide attention.

Abbott studied under Rudolph at Yale University and worked for Rudolph’s office in Sarasota shortly after the high school was constructed. He said the canopies connecting campuses were in the original Rudolph drawings, and feels Ringling College leaders don’t understand the significance of the structure. “It’s an important art school destroying art,” he said. He also felt destroying a connection between an art museum and high school was short-sighted.

College officials noted, though, that the plans for demolition have been publicly avaiable now for years, and while architects today are lobbying for demolition to be put on hold until further study, the project must eventually move forward.

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