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Architect About Town

Midcentury Modern a tool for learning

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

Writing an architectural column for The News-Press seemed like a golden opportunity to locally explore and identify the best structures, the best building methods and who was responsible for creating them — past and present. My aim has been to define what good design means in Southwest Florida in order to build more effectively and appropriately for the future.

This year, along with writing and running a business, I am president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida Southwest). With the construction industry hurting it is a challenging — and perhaps less glamorous — time to be at the helm. However, the slowdown in construction has provided the design profession time to reflect on the recent boom and its repercussions on the community and the environment. And think about what comes next.

When the Southwest Florida Museum of History approached the chapter about collaborating on a historical architectural exhibition, looking to the future seemed as relevant as looking to the past. The exhibition shouldn’t be limited to a passive look at the earliest buildings and their history but could be a tool to study those that have stood the test of time in this hot and humid climate.

What can we learn from these earlier structures?

Collectively, it was agreed to focus on the modern designs from the middle of the last century. Examining of this younger indigenous architecture may provide just the right insight into why and what buildings really work here.

This joint exhibition, scheduled for 2011, will celebrate midcentury modern architecture in Fort Myers and its environs.

Our architecture is being recognized internationally for its functional and stylized design tailored to this place — the sun, the rain and occasional extraordinary winds. The Lee County administration offices downtown, the Walker Guest House on Sanibel and Harbour Towers on West First Street all spring to mind.

There is so much to learn and glean from these buildings. And now, we need your help.

The museum is looking for drawings, photos, even surviving architectural models of buildings, commercial, public or residential built from 1940-’60s (possibly into the ’70s). These buildings may still survive or regrettably have been demolished. Unaltered homes and public buildings are being sought for inclusion in the exhibition as original examples of this style.

In addition, the museum will be documenting relevant existing structures for public records, even if not for the exhibition.

In Florida, architects reinterpreted modernism to suit our subtropical climate, resulting in an unconventional approach to shelter specific to this area with its hot and wet climate. I have noted before that the west coast of South Florida is recognized as the birthplace of some of the finest examples of midcentury modern buildings in the world.


Midcentury modern is a term used to define developments in furniture and product design as well as architecture and interior design from approximately 1945-’65. In architecture, midcentury modern is a reinterpretation of the modernist principles of the1920s and 1930s, which responded to their location, regarding materials and climate.

Joyce Owens AIA RIBA