BUILDING A DAY: October 4, 2014

Healy Guest House
Sarasota, Florida

Architects: Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph
Renderings: Library of Congress

“A tension roof structure spanning 22 ft. (I could not wait for a longer and therefore more appropriate span- which renders this an exercise in structural exhibitionism) poised at the water’s edge with breathing walls and a spirit of light-heartedness. It should have been one room because of the volumes of space defined by the curving roof, but it is actually divided into four spaces, and the resultant segmental spaces are not satisfactory.”

– Paul Rudolph. The Architecture of Paul Rudolph. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.

The two-bedroom, 735 square foot building was constructed in 1951 as a guest house for the in-laws of Ralph Twitchell, Rudolph’s partner at the time, and it is notable for its technological and structural experimentation. The simple catenary roof was developed using flat steel straps spanning between the more normal post and beam construction of the flanking sides. The steel straps are fastened to flexible insulation boards and a sprayed plastic finish was used to complete the roof. The roofing material, named Cocoon, was the same used by the military to store ships and was discovered by Rudolph when he was serving in the Navy during World World II.

It was selected in 1953 by the New York Museum of Modern Art as one of the 19 examples of houses built since World War II as a pioneer design foreshadowing the future. The house is designated as an American Treasure by The Library of Congress.

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