Constructing Conversation at the Sarasota Design Conference



Sarasota Architecture Week continues apace, and although the awards have been given and tours been had, there’s still plenty to see as the celebration reaches its zenith this weekend with the 30th anniversary Sarasota Design Conference. An exhibit on the work of architect Ben Waechter at the Center for Architecture-Sarasota remains up through the month, and this weekend’s three-day conference—newly expanded this year—sees two days chock-full of themed presentations and discussions led by international architects and designers, but also, in a new addition, a Sunday workshop on the emerging concept, “Salty Urbanism,” led by architect Jeffrey Huber and designed for general audiences. All lectures and workshops take place at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.

“The purpose of Architecture Week is to bring the public into our world,” says architect Julian Norman-Webb, founder of JNW Studios and president of the AIA Florida Gulf Coast chapter, and that’s why the chapter of the took over the endeavor 30 years ago, as the state of Florida held its final design conference and declared it not worth the effort. Three decades and many conferences later, Norman-Webb still disagrees. “It stands for thinking outside the box, thinking outside of what we see on our doorstep here in Sarasota,” he says, and that’s why the conference brings architects from around the world to share their ideas and inspiration. “To make sure we’re constantly having a progressive conversation,” he says.

With this year’s theme announced as “Designing for Change,” the conversation will revolve around the potential solutions that architectural design can bring to the table, whether that change be climate change or human migration. With a world in flux, maybe architecture can provide a solid foundation. “We wouldn’t have imagined this 15 years ago,” says Norman-Webb, “but things have become quite unpredictable.”

And it’s a conversation everyone can join, not only professional architects or designers. The conference is, by design, open to the entire public for maximum input and effect. Even the lectures, says Norman-Webb, “would still be perfectly accessible.” But it’s the Sunday workshop on Salty Urbanism that really has Norman-Webb excited for some community participation. Garnering serious thought since the events of Hurricane Sandy, Salty Urbanism refers to designing not just individual buildings, but entire communities, with an eye to resilience in the face of harsh coastal living—whether that be overtly dangerous inclement weather or the ever-present assault of salt air. “There hasn’t really been a lot of thought as to how communities get back on their feet and how people cope,” says Norman-Webb, and everything from infrastructure to community shelter needs to be addressed.

Registration for the Sarasota Design Conference is still available online, including registration for the Salty Urbanism workshop on Sunday. The exhibition of the work of architect Ben Waechter will be on display in Center for Architecture-Sarasota through June 22.

Pictured: Models and displays from the exhibition at Center for Architecture-Sarasota. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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