Walker Guest House

  • Address
    West Gulf Drive
    Sanibel Island, FL
  • Built
  • Type
  • Size
    580 sq ft
  • Documents
    Drawing | Plan

In 1923, Swiss architect Le Corbusier imagined a future of houses like machines with standardized parts and efficient plans. Three decades later, Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House provides the model for this dream. This small structure near the end of Sanibel's West Gulf Drive reduces a Floridian home to its most basic elements.

It has all the elements of a traditional house: a porch, living room, kitchen, bath and bedroom, but with a much simpler spirit. It is a floating pavilion of two divided rooms and two planes - the roof and floor. The exterior walls are transient; the rooms are fluid and the spindly external structure so thin as to nearly disappear.

It is a unique house of standard parts and modest design. It is not merely functional, but also practical and surprisingly charming. Rudolph favored this small yet striking guest house over all his vast and varied projects from his international career.

Dr. Walter Walker, a native of Minnesota, approached the Sarasota architecture firm of Twitchell and Rudolph to design a home for his small Sanibel tract that he had purchased some years earlier in 1943. The main house, similar to many of Rudolph's early designs, was a long box, open along its longest edges, and risen on thin stilts. The house never came to be.

In 1952 when Dr. Walker again approached Twitchell to continue the design, Paul Rudolph had already left to open his own firm. Twitchell suggested Dr. Walker take his work to Rudolph who he referred to as "the man with ideas". Once commissioned, Rudolph proposed that Dr. Walker begin small – first with the guest house, and then proceed from there.

The core of the Walker Guest house is 24 feet to a side – only 580 feet square. The entire house features common materials – wood, steel and glass – off-the-shelf and inexpensive. Every element has been minimized to its most functional necessity. The house's beauty derives purely from its unfettered functionality.

The porch is a sliver, but enough room for two chairs. The only privately enclosed room, and for obvious reason, is the bathroom. Of each three-bayside, a full pane of glass fills the leftmost bay while the other two are mere mesh screens. The roof and floors are thin planes that favor ventilation over insulation; this house is conditioned by Gulf breezes.

Hinged wooden panels fold down over the screened bays, enclosing the house during a storm. When the sun returns, guests can raise the panels, which become floating planes like the traditional overhangs on a Cracker house porch. The panels are counterweighted by concrete balls and guests can lift each panel into position with rope pulls inside the house.

Like the legs of an enormous spider, the exoskeleton suspends the house just off the ground and safely above ambitious tides. Rudolph discovered an issue of swaying while standing on the roof and feeling the house shifting side-to-side beneath him. To counteract the racking, Rudolph fixed the frame with thin metal rods in x-braces: to each problem of a house, a simple solution.

The final structure thus exemplifies a step-by-step deduction of how one might solve the problem of living in Florida.

AIA Florida Southwest Southwest Florida Museum of History Herman Miller