The inaugural AIA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter event series will feature an exhibit through June 22.
The Sarasota architecture scene is about to get spruced up.
American Institute of Architects Florida Gulf Coast Chapter has hosted the biennial Sarasota Design Conference for more than 20 years, but this year is its first Sarasota Architecture Week.
The conference is one part of this inaugural seven-day event, which will take place June 2-10 and include an open house of local architecture offices, design awards, home tours, a kids’ architecture camp and the kickoff of a new design exhibit.
“The whole idea of creating this new umbrella is to give people the ability to see how we work and what we do,” says Julian P.A. Norman-Webb, president of AIA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. “Hopefully, by showing what good design is, we can reinforce why architecture is valuable, not just something you calculate with dollars and cents.”
Center for Architecture Sarasota will host the inaugural Sarasota Architecture Week exhibit, which will be split into two parts. The first half in the back gallery will feature the chapter presentations and work by the 12 award-winning designers of the 2018 AIA Florida Gulf Coast Design Awards, all of whom are either chapter members or have designed a structure in the chapter’s region. Viewers will also get to vote for the designer they think deserves the Spirit of Sarasota Award.
The chapter presentations consist of three boards exhibiting the programs the chapter undertakes that are easy to explain visually — mainly the outreach the organization is doing in local schools and its launch of a national sustainable design initiative called the 20/30 Challenge, for which the chapter will be a local affiliate.
Ben Waechter of Waechter Architecture from Portland, Ore., will take center stage for the other half of the exhibit, which will take place in the main gallery facing Orange Avenue.
Norman-Webb says Waechter was chosen as the architect to highlight because he has a uniquely simple style and abnormal design philosophy. When he left the U.S. to work for a famous architect in Italy, he went on solo study trips to Switzerland to study Swiss modernism, which remains one of the biggest influences on the style of his work.
The exhibit, Norman-Webb says, will feature a collection of his work in the form of boards, photographs, drawings and several models of his structures, because he follows a process by which he models his projects as he designs them. After they are built, he does a post-construction analysis. He uses this analysis to critique what he did in the same way on each project so he has what Norman-Webb calls a “library of processes.”
“That’s quite unique because most architectures don’t do that last self-critique stage,” he says. “So he’s very much included that in his workflow and that informs what he does and doesn’t do in projects.”
Norman-Webb says the process of finding speakers, an exhibitor and other designers to highlight at the conference was fueled by its goal of highlighting architects thinking outside the box. AIA wants to spotlight designers who explore in their process and are constantly evolving.
“We’re trying to challenge people to think beyond what they normally see in Sarasota and bring in some stimulus from the outside world to keep the discussions fresh,” he says.
Most Sarasotans, he says, are used to discussing the same style of architecture historically seen in this area: Spanish Mediterranean work, midcentury modern and a derivation of midcentury modern that utilizes more boxes. He hopes that by shedding light on the work of people such as Waechter, Sarasotans will open their eyes to new styles.
As for what they’ll get out of it, he hopes it all stems from a new appreciation for architecture.
“Architecture enriches people’s lives and makes places like Sarasota stick out in a good way,” Norman-Webb says. “People can come away with a strengthened realization that good architecture is not just a superficial enhancement, but it’s actually imperative to have buildings that are designed successfully.”
Correction: The print version of this story that appeared in the Sarasota Observer, Siesta Key Observer, Longboat Key Observer and East County Observer stated the incorrect name of the inaugural week of events for AIA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.