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      The Florida Home

                             Modern Living


GI House

rendering of Tropix-pansible House


During the two decades following World War II, population growth and an expanding economy transformed the landscape of Florida. Extensive migration from other states, new highways, the rise of jet aviation, the reinvigoration of tourism and increasing investment in military installations propelled a far-reaching boom.

The hundreds of thousands of people who settled in Florida sought housing, particularly new homes in the suburban areas of the state's metropolitan regions. Rising incomes, low-interest government loans and efficiencies in the building industry all contributed to the construction of an unprecedented number of houses. Architectural styles reflected the postwar generation's desire for modern homes-homes that expressed the optimistic, future-oriented mood of the times and that offered interlocking spaces and furnishings for comfortable living.

In the Miami metropolitan area, the focus of this exhibition, architects adapted modernist design concepts and technologies to a sub-tropical environment to create houses uniquely suited to South Florida lifestyles. They employed vast glass and screened walls that revolutionized the surfaces of houses and produced unparalleled openness to the environment. At the same time, they aspired to a spirit of authenticity that was rooted in the ideas of the region's early naturalists. Although their houses were often radically innovative in composition, architects followed vernacular building strategies and used locally available types of wood, concrete and masonry. The result was a new type of home that redefined the boundary between indoors and outdoors. This embrace and celebration of the tropical environment constitute the most vital and original contribution of South Florida architects to postwar housing.



Designing the South Florida Modern Home


Birdcage interior
The Birdcage



There was ample precedent for the development of the tropical home in postwar South Florida. Porches for living and sleeping, walled patios, terraces, balconies, habitable roof decks, loggias, verandas and exterior stairways were all elements characteristic of the region's earlier architectural styles: the traditional wood vernacular, Mediterranean Revival and the "Art Deco" modern of the 1930s. Outdoor-oriented spaces were the building blocks of a distinct South Florida residential architecture, which postwar architects pursued in new ways. South Florida architects were also influenced by national architectural trends, such as the Case Study Houses-affordable modern homes designed by leading architects between 1945 and 1966 for the Los Angeles area.

For South Floridians, the tropical home was a vehicle for creating a domestic utopia: a world in which families fantasized of unfettered contact with the warm, lush environment. This environment, however, also posed many challenges: annoying insects, intense sun, frequent rain and overwhelming humidity. In providing shelter and protection, South Florida architects employed raised floors, overhanging eaves and cross ventilation, while experimenting with continuities in indoor and outdoor spaces. Narrow rooms, shed roofs and large louvered windows helped to move breezes through houses.

The most conspicuous feature of the tropical home was the expansive screened porch or "Florida Room." These all-purpose outdoor living spaces became more affordable with technological advancements, including "Lumite" plastic screening (instead of wire mesh) and lightweight wood or aluminum frames. Although Miami's ubiquitous grid of streets ran north-south and east-west, Florida Rooms were often oriented southeast for maximum exposure to trade winds.



Postwar Miami Architects


Drawing of Rufus Nims house
Rufus Nims

Parker house photo
Parker house

Igor Polevitzky, Rufus Nims and Alfred Browning Parker were leaders of a Miami version of the national "modern is regional" movement that emerged in the early 1940s. Like Ralph Twitchell and Paul Rudolph in the Tampa Bay area, Polevitzky, Nims and Parker defined the paradigms of the modern tropical house before the widespread use of central air-conditioning. Their works were published in national architectural journals and in such magazines as House and Garden, House Beautiful and House & Home. Polevitzky was particularly concerned with spatial elements suitable to the tropics: patios, porches, terraces and raised galleries. Nims combined respect for Florida vernacular architectural traditions with experimentation in building materials, construction technologies and house structures. Of the three, Parker was the most inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's postwar "organic" architecture, with its emphasis on horizontal spaces and projecting roofs that connected with nature.

Among the other important Miami architects of the period were Norman Giller, Russell Pancoast, Lester Pancoast, Robert Bradford Browne, Robert Little, George Reed, Wahl Snyder and Kenneth Treister. Their works ranged from low-cost housing projects to luxurious homes. Two prominent prewar architects remained active during the postwar era: Robert Law Weed, who had designed a "Florida Tropical Home" for the 1933 Century of Progress exposition in Chicago, and Marion Manley, the second registered female architect in Florida. Weed and Manley participated in the design of the modernist campus of the University of Miami. Beyond Miami, tropical modern homes were built by such architects as Chuck Reed and Robert Hansen in Ft. Lauderdale.



South Florida’s Modern Houses



Drawing of Mesrobian house


Imported from Europe, the 1930s "International Style" house-made of glass, white walls and flat roofs-was never popular in the U.S., although a significant number were built in Miami Beach. Modernism's survival was based on architects' ability to propose less threatening options for the middle-income family. Spurred by Frank Lloyd Wright, the search for a new vernacular modern home accelerated after World War II. The modern became regional, with houses less rigid in design than the International Style and closer to the public's desires. White walls and glass boxes were no longer the exclusive image of modernity. The warmth of brick, stone and wood could also be modern, as could sloped roofs and courtyards. Glass remained popular but was often screened by awnings, overhangs and louvers, or incorporated in sliding doors.

After World War II, South Florida architects created a new type of modern house. They conceived of their houses as experiments and took great pride in solving specific problems related to living in a tropical environment. Paradoxically, South Florida's outdoor living ideal reached its apex during the 1950s, a period that corresponded with the integration of air-conditioning into the house. In an age defined by technological mastery of comfort, openness to the outdoors and natural breezes was a deliberate choice in lifestyle and aesthetics. With the development of cheaper central air-conditioning during the 1960s, however, the embrace of South Florida's tropical environment declined in favor of the sealed box which, whatever its style, continues to dominate residential architecture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.


    More Photographs  
Nims house photo
Nims house

Living room photo
Living room



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