Sarasota High School Building Nos. 4 and 5 were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 27, 2012. They are not locally landmarked by the city of Sarasota.
Sarasota High School’s Building Nos. 4 and 5 were a product of the Sarasota County’s internationally recognized school construction program. The program, which lasted from 1954 to 1960, was initiated by Philip Hiss. Hiss received a large inheritance that enabled him to pursue his many interests, one of which was architecture. He moved to Sarasota after World War II and found the schools poorly suited to the county’s climate and educational needs (Howey). He was elected to the Sarasota County School Board in 1952, determined to improve the district’s facilities (McQuade).
Hiss was a strong supporter of Sarasota’s burgeoning Modernist architectural movement. The group of architects, which included Rudolph, Ralph Twitchell, and Victor Lundy, would later become known as the Sarasota School of Architecture. They fused the International style with Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture to create a style unique to the region. Their houses included open floor plans, walls of sliding glass windows, wide overhangs, and native construction materials. The Sarasota School had gained renown within the architectural press by the time Hiss took his place on the school board and were primed for more high-profile jobs.
Sarasota County faced a classroom shortage in the decade after World War II, and Hiss saw his opportunity. He urged his fellow board members to commission modern architects to design the new school buildings. They consented and selected father and son William and Ralph Zimmerman to design Brookside Junior High School (1955). The project came in $45,000 under budget and was well received (McQuade).
In 1956, Hiss became chairman of the school board, and nine more modern schools and additions followed. Each featured ample light and ventilation and flexible space configurations suited to fresh teaching methods. The revolutionary school construction program was acclaimed, and visitors from across the world toured the new schools (McCarthy). But it was not so beloved by conservative Sarasotans. They believed Hiss, a distant relative of Alger Hiss, was forcing a liberal agenda on students. The two most high-profile and costly projects—the Riverview High School campus (1958) and the Sarasota High School additions (1960), both designed by Rudolph—received the harshest criticism from locals(Domin and King). Furthermore, Sarasota High School’s Building No. 4 early on exhibited structural deficiencies, which effectively put an end to Sarasota’s school-building program. Hiss left the board in 1960. Also that year, Rudolph, by then dean of the Yale School of Architecture, closed his Sarasota office (Domin and King). The SHS additions marked the Sarasota School of Architecture’s peak.
Building No. 4 has experienced decades of unsympathetic alterations and deferred maintenance. Though built without air conditioning, Rudolph planned for its later inclusion to be inconspicuous (Domin and King). His design intentions were not followed. Multiple pipes are visible throughout the building; netting and fencing obscure the clerestories; sliding glass doors, monitors, and windows have been sealed; and concrete is spawling. Despite the interior modifications and deterioration, the building’s exterior has retained much of its architectural integrity.
Building No. 5’s exterior also appears much as it did when it was constructed; however, a two-story classroom addition was built flush to the north facade. The roof monitors have also been blocked. In the interior, air conditioning was also added, and large conduits and vents are visible on the ceiling.
In early 2012, school district officials proposed the demolition of Building No. 5 and alteration of Building No. 4, including the enclosure of its trademark main breezeway. Both were designed by Rudolph, a revered architect who practiced in Sarasota. District officials said the changes were necessary to improve safety; meet statewide standards for declining enrollment; and condense the spread-out campus (Sarasota Observer 8A). Nonprofits, Sarasota Architectural Foundation and Docomomo Florida opposed the plans. They hosted a program about the threats to the school on March 14, 2012 at the Ringling College of Art and Design. The panelists included members of the Sarasota School of Architecture, architectural historians, and Docomomo Florida board members.
Later that month, school district officials selected a team led by Harvard Jolly Architecture to redesign Building No. 4. Harvard Jolly previewed six options at a public design charrette on June 6-7, 2012. It was attended by upward of 200 preservationists, architects, teachers, students, and parents. The consensus supported Option No. 5. For Building No. 4, this included the retention of its breezeways, the removal of unsightly netting and pipes, and the rehabilitation of the classrooms so they are conducive to modern teaching methods. For Building No. 5, this plan called for its rehabilitation into a media center. School district officials seemed willing to bring Option 5 to fruition, though it was estimated to cost $4 million more than the $26.5 million appropriated for work at Sarasota High School (Hackney).
In July 2012, the school board approved the extra $4 million. Harvard Jolly and Tandem Construction are preparing the designs and are scheduled to finish in spring 2013. Work is expected to be completed by December 2015 (Bubil).
Both Building Nos. 4 and 5 are set back from the original circa 1927 Sarasota High School building, linked by a series of concrete covered walkways inspired by Wright’s esplanades at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. They form an L shape, with the larger Building No. 4 situated on an east-west axis and Building No. 5 on a north-south axis.
Building No. 4 sits on a hill. A vehicular drop-off shelter is located at the base, and a covered walkway leads up the wide concrete stairs. The concrete slab foundation supports the walls, which are made of poured concrete and concrete block. Building No. 4 is painted in a light color, as was the architect’s intention(Domin and King).
The two-story building is divided into 15 bays. Carefully designed geometric sunscreen panels hang from the roof and shield the clerestory windows and glass walls. A pair of two-story breezeways break up the mass. The larger breezeway, which is three bays wide, is located toward the east end. It includes a rectangular roof cutout and floating concrete staircase. Lockers line the walls. The second floor of the double-loaded classroom corridor is accessed via a concrete bridge, designed to encourage air flow. Nets and wire fences hang from the raised plate ceiling, obstructing the clerestory windows.
Building No. 5’s one-story, brick locker rooms are located to the northwest of Building No. 4. It is also painted a light color. The locker rooms are connected to the gymnasium space, adjacent to the north. The two-story gym rests on a concrete slab foundation, which supports the brick walls. Clerestory windows extend along the roof on the south elevation. The cube-patterned folded plate roof no longer serves its original purpose, because the monitors have been blocked. The interior includes a hardwood floor, and wooden bleachers line the north and south walls. Air conditioning ductwork hangs from the ceiling. A classroom addition extends along the north façade.
Building Nos. 4 and 5 are the most significant remnants of the Sarasota County School District’s innovative postwar school construction program. Their unique designs and ingenious lighting and ventilation systems exemplify Hiss’s vision. They also rank among the most important of Rudolph’s illustrious career. His experimentation with concrete and geometric forms at SHS would later be revisited with the Yale University Art and Architecture Building (1963) and the Orange County Government Center in New York (1967). Though the interiors of Building Nos. 4 and 5 have been altered, the two buildings have retained a high degree of exterior architectural integrity and appear much as they did a half century ago.
Bubil, Harold. “Plans Move Ahead for Paul Rudolph Buildings at Sarasota High School.” Real Estate Today. 30 August 2012 http://realestatetoday.blogs.heraldtribune.com/12483/plans-for-paul-rudo... .
Domin, Christopher and Joseph King. Paul Rudolph: The Florida Houses. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002
"Explore More Options at SHS." Sarasota Observer (22 March 2012): 8A
Hackney, Rachel Brown,“National Register Listing Expected Any Day for Sarasota High School Buildings.” Sarasota News Leader. 21 June 2012. http://sarasotanewsleader.com/national-register-listing-expected-any-day... .
Howey, John. The Sarasota School of Architecture, 1941-1966. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995
McCarthy, John. Interoffice Memorandum. Letter to Sarasota County Commission. Board Assignment No. 12033: Renovation Sarasota High School. 2 May 2012
McQuade, Water. “The School Board That Dared.” Architectural Forum. February 1959.