Refrigerator As Canvas at Center for Architecture-Sarasota



Found in almost every home in America, the unfortunate remain barren metal. Others crowd with photos and family notes, report cards and grocery lists, knick-knacks, souvenirs and memories—the protected detritus of family life suspended by arrays of magnets—layer upon layer constructing a sum greater than its parts. But despite its iconic nature, the refrigerator door never really got its due as a medium for storytelling, instead becoming a punch line and its unexplored and chaotic beauty dismissed as accident. But with the latest exhibition at Center for Architecture Sarasota (CFAS), Human Tales on Refrigerator Doors, Sweet Sparkman Architects and the master students of UF CityLab-Sarasota finally give the refrigerator door the spotlight it deserves.

The show returns from its world premiere at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, or 2016 Biennale Architettura, in Venice, Italy. Sweet Sparkman was invited to participate again after a successful showing in 2012, and reached out to the students of CityLab with the opportunity. Three volunteered to participate—Christopher Fadely, Olivia Craig, and Karl Bernhard—in addition to one Ringling College student and CityLab Program Director Martin Gold. Architects and designers from around the world responded to the 2016 Biennale theme (“Success stories worthy to be told and exemplary cases worthy to share where architecture did, is and will make a difference.”), and here in Sarasota the folks at Sweet Sparkman and CityLab-Sarasota went hunting for some vintage refrigerators.

“Refrigerator doors were used not only for the presentation of individual stories, but were used in response to a medium that people are familiar with,” says Christopher Fadely, a masters student with CityLab-Sarasota who designed a door for the exhibition. “It is an American tradition that refrigerator doors are used within a family to pin up important achievements or tack on magnets of pictures of important people and places.” In that way, the audience builds an instant connection borne of familiarity and nostalgia that brings intimacy to the work, as though peering into the life of another. “It takes the ordinary and makes it a little bit extraordinary,” says Gold.

Featuring seven doors in the show, the architects and students celebrated not only the natural geography of Florida, but the architectural history and traditions singular to the area, including the success of the CityLab project itself in placing aspiring architectural students into the built environment to work with seasoned professionals. “My message to convey was that Sarasota is an up-and-coming community,” says Fadely. “There is so much respect for the profession of architecture here and the exposure of students to the community was a fantastic idea.” Affixing everything from books, Florida oranges, gemstones and cigarillos to the doors, the students make their own statements about what foundation this up-and-coming community rises from.

“The students embraced the call,” says Gold. And the opportunity presented by Sweet Sparkman was no small offer. “It’s such a fantastic opportunity,” he says of his students’ participation in the Biennale. “For architects, travel is the best form of education.” And through the students’ investigation into the history of architecture in the community, he hopes the audience will come away with a little more appreciation of the wonders around them. “I hope they’ll think about this community in a different way,” Gold says. “We take what we do locally in Sarasota for granted.”

Human Tales from Refrigerator Doors opens March 21 at the Center for Architecture on Orange Avenue and runs through April 28. There will be an opening reception on the evening of March 23. On April 18, CFAS will host a round table discussion about the exhibition in Venice, with Jerry Sparkman and Todd Sweet of Sweet Sparkman Architects, the three CityLab students and Gold.

Pictured: Refrigerator doors repurposed by CityLab students. Photo courtesy of CFAS.

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