Thursday, January 04, 2007

Pelican Press Editorial

Pelican Press

Rudolph's Riverview High must be preserved

Unless you've just returned to town, you know by now that despite months of active campaigning by local and national preservationists, the Sarasota School of Architecture-styled, Paul Rudolph-designed Riverview High School, which was built in 1957, has been slated for destruction since last summer.

Since the announcement, Save Riverview, which is committed to finding a way to preserve the Rudolph structures, has generated a groundswell of international support. The county commission recently directed its legal staff to research Florida statutes and determine if there are provisions to block the school board's plan to replace the historic structure with a new one by the autumn of 2009. The commission directed County Attorney Steve DeMarsh to research both applicable laws and the county's comprehensive plan for a report about "historic preservation and off-site impacts." A report has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 25.

And, as reported in this week's Pelican, Metropolis, an internationally known design and architecture magazine, is producing a documentary on the ongoing saga of the Rudolph buildings.

Clearly this is not an issue that is going to fade away gracefully - probably much to the chagrin of the school board, which voted unanimously to demolish the school.

On May 18, 2006, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation listed the building as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Sites in the state. Then, to the surprise of local and international Rudolph devotees, one month later, the school board announced a multimillion-dollar plan for building a new Riverview that means all the existing school's buildings would be demolished to make way for parking.

The school district had already paid approximately $1.2 million for an in-depth facilities assessment by the firm 3D/International (3DI). Unfortunately - and this is really where they missed the boat - the Paul Rudolph-designed structures were left out of the assessment; because they were intended to be razed, no discussion necessary. This, despite a 2004 memorandum to Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris from BMK Architects overviewing its extensive 2002 Long-Range Facilities Review on Riverview High School, which stated "plan on replacing all existing buildings on campus ... with the exception of the original Rudolph buildings, which should be rehabilitated."

Rudolph's designs tend to be polarizing. But whether you love or hate the building is really irrelevant; it is a historically important piece of the Sarasota School of Architecture that should be saved.

Rudolph was a pioneering architect and a major figure of the Sarasota School of Architecture. Before designing Riverview High School in 1957, he focused his groundbreaking talents on designing private residences on Siesta Key and Sarasota.

In his designs, Rudolph synthesized the Modernist ideas of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis I. Kahn. He used sweeping monolithic forms and intricate interior spaces to create a powerful sculptural quality.

This community should have enjoyed a lasting, living legacy with its Sarasota School of Architecture. Instead, the school and what it represented are rapidly becoming relics of the past. And remaining structures designed and built in this style are becoming as rare as affordable housing.

Each historic building's importance increases exponentially every time another piece of our local history is destroyed. The need to preserve this small slice of Sarasota's past becomes painfully obvious when one starts considering all the historic places that have been destroyed in favor of "progress."

Grant money is available for places on the Historic Register, especially if it is being renovated for public use. Contributions from local foundations, federal and state funds and matching grants could be explored.

If the worldwide response to this issue is any indication - and it should be - Riverview must be protected as a historic structure.

The powers that be have managed to whittle away much of what was an already very limited local history.

Do we really want to be remembered for destroying what little remains? Do we want that to be our legacy?


Anonymous said...

The sift of time, which separates great architecture from period pieces, is unkind to Paul Rudolph. His Brutalist designs are about texture and style, not proportion and function. As such, his work is already obsolete in a relentless consumer society, which hungers for forms just as showy and shallow as Rudolph's, but currently in fashion.

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