This past December, Sarasota lost a legend in the passing of famed architect Edward ‘Tim’ Seibert, known as the “Lion” of local architecture. A formative figure in what became known as the Sarasota School of Architecture, Seibert cut his teeth apprenticing under Paul Rudolph, dealt in design under Philip Hiss, worked alongside the likes of Victor Lundy and Gene Leedy and, in his 40+ years active in the region, left an enduring imprint on the built environment and a legacy in his firm, Seibert Architects. On a cold January morning, Sarasota architects Sam Holladay, president of Seibert Architects, and Guy Peterson of Guy Peterson Office for Architecture swap memories made and lessons learned.

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What were the first impressions, first meetings with Seibert like?    

Sam Holladay:  Kind of blunt, only as he can be. I was hired on a two-week notice and I stayed there for 20-some odd years, but he actually said, “You can go back with the boys, and if you learn anything you can stay.” That kind of approach, but it was always with a little grin. That was kind of his humor. 

Guy Peterson:  I met Tim Seibert when I was a young boy. My parents and the Seiberts were early members of The Field Club. I grew up next to it and my parents were friends of the Seiberts. Pandora, their daughter, was just a little younger than I, but I knew her growing up at The Field Club, sailing and things like that. All I knew from my parents at that time—because Tim was a generation ahead of me—was that he was a well-known architect. I was there when he designed his additions to The Field Club, the glass pavilion, addition to the dining room, a bath-house, and then a really interesting little snack bar out over the water. So when I was growing up, I got to see some of his architecture plus obviously we all went to the Siesta Beach Pavilion.


Were those formative impressions? 

Peterson:  I think, ultimately. Because I was going to be a doctor. I started the change to architecture at the end of my first year of college. What year did you start, Sam?

Holladay:  With Tim? 1972. 

Peterson:  Okay, well I started college in ‘72, and I changed in early ‘73. That summer, thinking I’m changing to architecture, I talked to my father and told him the news—I wasn’t going to be a doctor. 

Holladay:  He was a doctor right? 

Peterson:  He was a doctor. He said, “Well, before you make your mind up, I want you to go talk to two people. I want you to talk to Frank Fine and I want you to talk to Tim Seibert.” Frank was an amazing and intellectual man. He was very supportive and enlightening. And then I met with Tim. This is the summer of ’73. You [Holladay] had just started, and he brought you into this meeting. I was scared to death, intimidated by Tim Seibert. But he took his time to talk to me about what being an architect is like and of course I was naïve enough to say, “Do you have any summer jobs?” I didn’t know anything about architecture.


What drew you in? What turned a two-week notice into 20 years?    

Holladay:   I didn’t know a whole lot about Seibert. I had gotten here, and I was working with somebody else for about six to nine months. About the time I graduated, I was down here trying to interview and this secretary says, “We’re not hiring, but let me do you a favor.” And she wrote down two lists—the A list and the B list—and said interview these guys and then these guys and if you don’t get any hits, don’t see anybody else in this town. About a month or two later she called me and said, “Well, if you haven’t gotten a job try this one other fellow.” A designer here in town had been with Tim for a while and was leaving. In the few months that I was here, I had seen a lot of his work and felt like it was something I wanted to do.

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Do you have any favorites of Seibert’s work?

Peterson:  One of my favorites is the house he first did for himself. I got to go there a number of times when I was young.

Holladay:  That was very impressive. 

Peterson:  It was at that time a pretty forward-thinking house and very simple concept. The Cooney House was a little different, more opaque kind of a house but still a very narrow lot, inward-focusing, and a very well-resolved project. The other one is obviously the Hiss Studio, that goes way back, but there’s a certain clarity to that, that I enjoy. It’s a beautiful house.

Holladay:  His house has just been . . .it’s like the bog took it over. It’s unrecognizable. It was great, just from the idea and

approach. It was two pavilions connected with a screened cage. The houses that he and Frank built were a whole series of those. There are several of those around here and they’re all the same module, but every one of them is unique. Siesta Beach Pavilion. Lido Key Beach Pavilion. Bay Plaza.

Peterson:  John D MacDonald’s house. That was kind of a departure for him when he did that.

Holladay:  That’s well put. It seems to
me, after looking at a lot of this work, that somewhere around the late middle 60s there was a shift in a lot of the design and the MacDonald house was one. The Cooney House was kind of a different thing, and there’s another house right on Whitfield Avenue up north of the airport that was built in the late 60s and there was this shift.

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Is there a uniting or guiding principle or sensibility that you could call a Seibert touch?   

Holladay: In the early work for sure, and it was not only Tim who was doing it at that time, but the whole indoor-outdoor relationship, use of materials, the special structure.

Peterson:  Clarity of idea.

HOLLADAY: Exactly.


What does that mean exactly, clarity of idea?   

Peterson: There’s an underlying honesty to the architecture. You’re not concealing structure by hiding it in walls. You’re expressing the structure, so you understand how the building’s held together. That becomes part of the structure of the space. All those things are all part of the language of the architecture. And it’s really based out of that international style of modernism that Rudolph was doing at the time. He brought that to Sarasota, this kind of softened Bauhaus kind of a look.

Holladay: Something we all take for granted now is air conditioning. I’ve lived in a couple of Seibert houses, a Rupp house, an apartment Rudolph did—they all had a lot of natural ventilation. You can open up some of those and I swear to God you would think everything’s going to be blowing through and out of the house. There’s so much movement in the houses.

Peterson: What’s interesting is that the natural light, the ventilation, the shading, and all those things are sort of passive design theories. Today, you’re a hero if you do those things, you’re like a green architect. In reality, those are really just amazing regional design concepts for the environment that we lived in. That’s part of that honesty in architecture.


Mr. Seibert worked with Mr. Rudolph right?  

Holladay:  Yes. Worked with and when [Rudolph] was working with Phil Hiss, which was a major influence on architecture in Sarasota County. [Seibert] was designing a lot of houses with Phil Hiss before he was a licensed architect. That’s when he did his studio. And according to Tim’s shake on it, Rudolph was always looking for a free meal and he was heading over at night and he would review all [Seibert’s] work with him and talk about architecture. Then the next morning there’d be notes all over his work, saying “do this,” “do that,” “okay,” “not okay.” He, in a sense, got an education directly through critiques.


How would you describe Tim Seibert’s legacy in this town? 

Peterson:  He’s part of a larger voice, but a very important voice in that larger period of time that launched a lot of progressive ideas in architecture. He was a significant player in that. Would it have withstood without him? It’s hard to say. But he is, of the local architects, arguably the most well known and influential. Gene Leedy was great, but he moved to Winter Haven.

Holladay: It’s kind of like the last man standing kind of a thing. Frank is still around and Jack was up until a few years ago. After he retired he was very vocal about, and criticized some of the things that he saw going on in Sarasota. And it had changed. And anything that changes is always going to be different. There are some issues going on in downtown Sarasota right now that still need to be corrected but, generally it’s headed in the right direction.

Peterson:  Part of his legacy is the firm that Sam took over. But Tim was not trying to get them to stop in time and do what he did; he was letting them move forward with their own voice and supportive of that, and encouraging them to do that. Even though he was retired, he was certainly a proponent of his firm continuing to grow and look at new directions in architecture.

Holladay:: That’s true. He was very interested in what we were up to, and we really can’t do what was being done in the 50s and 60s, and 70s even.

Peterson:  Nor should you probably.

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Favorite memories? 

Peterson:  Sam can speak to this a lot more than I can—but Tim wasn’t really known for being very complimentary. I remember I did a project in Lido Shores a number of years ago, where we did some renovations and an addition to the DeVries-Craig house that Tim had designed, which is a really nice project. It was in the paper, and Tim was interviewed about it. And he said, at the end of the article, “Guy did a good job.” It wasn’t a high five but it was like, I’ll take it. That’s about as good as you could get, I thought.

Holladay: Early on, when I was a lot younger, he had a client in talking to him, and the client started getting very picky about some of the design aspects. One of the other guys in the office was presenting, Tim was sitting there and after about 15, 20 minutes of this guy just, as Tim would say, getting pecked to death by a duck, he grabbed the drawing, ripped it off the desk, wadded up the paper and threw it in the trash can and said “Get out.” I was thinking, “Holy cow! What is this guy?”

Peterson:  It was a Howard Roark moment.

Holladay: I told him that once and, I said, “You did a few things that just blew me away when I saw it, but after a while I think you were right.” He and I talked after he retired in the late ‘90s, about how the office was running, and I said, “I’m not Tim Seibert, no way could ever be or pretend to be. Everybody does it their own way.” And he said, “You’re absolutely right. Keep at it, kid.”

Peterson:  That was your high five?

Holladay: Yeah.

Peterson: As close to it as you can get from him.