Joyce Owens : Climate the key to Florida architecture

Joyce Owens | Special to News-Press | October 21. 2011

Architect About Town columnist Joyce Owens, AIA, is busy preparing for the Nov. 11 opening of the SWFL MCMO: Mid-Century Modern in Southwest Florida exhibit, so we’ve given her a break from writing her column this month. In its place, she suggested this speech about contemporary Florida houses by notable Miami architect Igor Polevitzky, FAIA, in Tampa on Oct. 21, 1955, when he spoke to the State Convention of the Florida Home Builders Association.

It’s copied, in part, from Florida Architect, November 1955, p7.

To learn more about the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic movement and Florida’s distinct role in it, visit the exhibit at the Southwest Florida Museum of History, open Nov. 11–Jan 14.


SWFL McMo Exhibition

Joyce Owens | Special to News-Press | August 20, 2011

New music, new materials, new methods, new shapes — the middle of last century turned traditional design upside down.

Following the austerity of the World War II years, the prosperity of the decades that followed ushered in new era of style.

With men back from the war and mass distribution of washing machines, clothes dryers and the dishwasher, women found more leisure time in a new suburban lifestyle. A few years on, hubby found himself sipping his martini at the barbecue grill, flipping through Playboy, sideways, and fancying himself in a Corvette.

In this new lifestyle, fashion evolved from concealing to creating the hourglass figure. First came the poodle and pencil skirt, cone bras and small waists, progressing to the elegant form-fitting shifts of the impeccably styled Jacqueline Kennedy and her pillbox hats. Epitomized by the cool 1957 Chevy, iconic cars of the era changed as fast as fashion and were easy to identify by brand and year.

Did you know there was a similar evolution in architecture in the midcentury?

In south Florida, architects translated modernism to suit subtropical conditions, meanwhile creating an avant-garde and stylized approach to shelter suitable to a hot and wet climate while paralleling the design trends of multiple disciplines; furniture, fashion and graphics and more.

Back in the 1970s, communities struggled to save pre-Depression era buildings from the bulldozer.

Fast forward to 50 years later — it's time to pay attention to the designs of 56 years ago — stylish buildings appropriate for here. As a bonus, they offer great light and cool spaces and are made of remarkable local materials used in a distinctly modern manner.

In November, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Southwest Florida Museum of History will jointly celebrate local architectural and period style of the middle century by hosting a retrospective, affectionately titled "SWFL McMo" (Southwest Florida — Midcentury Modernism).

The exhibition is three-fold: a look at our best local buildings of the midcentury and their impact and influences today; a borrowed exhibition from Sarasota showcasing renowned architect Paul Rudolph's revolutionary Florida Houses; and a sampling of classic modern Herman Miller furniture and fashion of the era.

Come to the Southwest Florida Museum of History November though January to experience the evolution of midcentury style and architecture of southwest Florida. It'll be as cool as a collection of 1957 Chevys. Come early and you may even get the back seat.

— Joyce Owens practices architecture in Southwest Florida. Her column appears in the Home & Garden section the third Saturday of every month. She can be reached at jowens@architecturejoyceowens.com.

AIA Florida Southwest Southwest Florida Museum of History Herman Miller