In a region rich with architectural history, Guy Peterson stands out as an artist with a respect for the past and vision for the future. A finish tower designed by Peterson with the help of a team of University of Florida graduate students will stand as an icon of the 2017 World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park later this year, and numerous modern homes like the Spencer House downtown will stand for decades or longer as physical reminders of the architect’s aesthetic. So what make the building blocks of Peterson’s life?  

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The Sarasota School

The work of Paul Rudolph, Victor Lundy, Gene Leedy and Tim Seibert; I grew up with these people’s children and was always surrounded by amazing architecture, but at that point in my life was too young to understand it. As I started to study the craft, I realized I grew up in a really interesting part of the world. That innovative architecture and type of modernism led to my affinity and my passion, and the architecture I do is modernism. As architects, these men were all lifelong learners, and that’s why I continue to look at what architects around the world are doing by reading as many journals and experiencing as much of it as I can.


I’m not a very good player but I collect. I have four beautiful guitars that are especially important to me. One is an old acoustic, a Takamini guitar that is similar in design to a Martin D-28 Dreadnaught. Electrically, I have a Stratocaster; it was made by a custom shop but to the original ’67 specifications. I just got a Paul Reed Smith and a Gibson 335 semi-hollow body. I look at them as beautiful pieces of art as well as musical instruments. I have a little studio above my garage. It’s so isolated, and there I can just play.

The Bahamas

My wife and I also have a home in the Bahamas now. We get there when we can. Those trips are not about architecture at all, and are just about a place to get away to fish and snorkel and swim. You can go off to the beach and read. I grew up on the water here, and always had an affinity for it. When you are on one of the out islands, off of Eleuthera, you never see anybody. You just have these pink sand beaches. It’s a respite.

James Holliday

He was a mentor of mine before I was even in architecture school. He was one of the Sarasota School architects. Growing up, his son was my younger brother’s best friend, and I worked in his offices in the summer. My father was a physician, and I went to college pre-med but when I worked with Jim Holliday, who was just a wonderful person, he gave me a lot of positive reinforcement and helped me realize what I wanted to do. Out of college, I worked for his firm in Sarasota.

Butchie Barrett

Working at a Tallahassee firm, Barrett Daffin and Carlin, firm principal Butchie Barrett once told me: “I want you after 20 years to have 20 years of experience, not one year of experience done 20 times.” He taught me to build on experience, not do one meaningful thing and build the rest of your life on that.

Harry Merritt 

I did my undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Florida and got to study under Harry Merritt. He taught me to be an architect. I worked in Harry’s office during graduate school and that’s when it all clicked with me. I was very lucky to study under him, and he ended up being one of the huge influences in my life. I went out of college full of piss and vinegar, ready to set the world on fire. I started my own practice at 26 years old and I’ve had my own firm for 37 years.

University of Florida

One of the most rewarding experiences for me came in 2008 when I got a chance to teach at the University of Florida. It was supposed to be one semester of graduate design. I’d never taught before but I really enjoyed it. When I finished the semester, I started a conversation with the dean about doing more when an opportunity came up, and he was very supportive. I ended up going onto the faculty full-time as a professor, and now it’s been nine years I’ve been teaching architecture. You get used to solving problems a certain way, and, when you work with these young, creative minds to solve problems, I have just found it to be a healthy and refreshing practice. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I think you can. I end up hiring a lot of students to work in my office.

Center for Architecture—Sarasota  When I was teaching up in Gainesville, the dean at the time had this idea about starting a satellite program. My wife Cynthia thought we could get a building, found this one with the county and asked if they would consider leasing it. Our firm was involved with renovating the space, but this was really Cynthia’s project. It ended up a huge success story and has become an important cultural institution. 

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Both my sons went to the Air Force Academy. Each had a pilot’s license at 16—they are now 35 and 31—and when they were learning to fly in high school, I got to check it out. I did a little bit of flying, but was raising a family, and knew I couldn't be a part-time pilot. You need to be proficient, and I didn’t then have time, really, to travel that way.


Over Christmas, we went to Kiev to visit my oldest son Nolan, who now does conflict journalism. I spent a day at Chernobyl. When that happened it was such a moment in terms of nuclear disasters that ever happened. We got a licensed tour, and got to experience that in the middle of winter. It was so eerie to see, especially in the 30-mile exclusion zone around Reactor 4. But this was a Soviet city of the future, Pripyat. And people just left. You can see dolls in kindergarten classrooms and gas masks on the floor, pictures and maps in the school, clothing, books, cards, a Ferris wheel—all just as they left it in 1986. We got to go as close as they will allow to Reactor 4. Less than a month before our visit the new containment dome, which is the largest moving building in the world, had been rolled over the old sarcophagus to further help contain the still active radiation emitting from the damaged reactor. To see the entropy, you understand how nature takes over and everything goes to a state of disorder.

Historical Fiction

Gary Jennings wrote some amazing stories about journeyers like Marco Polo and about the Aztec culture when the Spaniards took over. These are 1,000 page books, and I’ve read a lot of them. And Wilbur Smith, an African author, has written fascinating stories about South Africa—all real places but there’s some fiction to it. When I read, I always want to be learning something.