Sarasota Design Conference Expands, Yields Solutions



With the Sarasota Design Conference in the rearview, officials and participants are still mulling over what they’ve learned—particularly from the inaugural workshop. It’s been 30 years since the first conference, and this year saw the first extension to a full three days, bringing the addition of a participatory workshop designed to get attendees hands-on with design solutions in their own area. “Our relationship with water is Florida-wide,” says Selma Goker Wilson, 2018 Sarasota Design Conference Organization Committee Chair and AIA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter secretary. “The more we understand, the faster we can find solutions.”

With a focus on “Salty Urbanism,” a concept calling for forward-thinking design and architecture that can withstand coastal conditions and adapt to the changing nature of what that will mean in a future of rising sea levels, increased storm activity and climate change. Gathering in the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, an intimate group of 30 or so attendees heard from a series of speakers from around the state, including design dignitaries like Jeffrey Huber, a principal and director of planning and urban design at the internationally acclaimed Brooks + Scarpa architectural firm, and Dr. Keith van de Riet, whose artificial mangrove root systems transform bare concrete seawalls into thriving ecosystems that provide natural water filtration. Ringling College Professor Tim Rumage brought a local focus, examining how these issues could affect waterways and coastal communities in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

But it wouldn’t be a workshop without the audience taking some problems to task, and the second half saw attendees divided into groups to brainstorm real-world solutions for real-world sites. With supplementary documentation, Rumage introduced the groups to the particulars of a variety of sites, including Whitaker Bayou and the Van Wezel. Using this information, each group brought to bear what it had learned in previous presentations, strategizing solutions that cold be viable in their own backyards. “We had a lot of good ideas,” says Wilson, and the conference hopes to put some together in a concise presentation for the key players involved, to let them know of these possible solutions.

For a first-time project, Wilson reports complete satisfaction, and hopes to continue with the model in the future, noting that architects and designers, like everyone else, learn in myriad ways, and lectures and presentations don’t always cut it. But though the conference may grow in many ways, it likely will retain its intimate nature and avoid ballooning into a massive trade show or something of that ilk. “The whole point is that everybody gets to talk to everybody,” says Wilson, “especially the speakers.”

Pictured: Ringling College Professor Tim Rumage leads a presentation at the Sarasota Design Conference "Salty Urbanism" workshop. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

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