In a year when Florida and the Caribbean have been hit by more and bigger hurricanes, the pressure to design structures that can resist constant wind, sand blasting and hurricanes is more intense than ever. These challenges face architects even more acutely when designing beach structures. The public beach environment requires the buildings withstand not only extreme weather, but high volume public use as well.
When Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department planned is $21 million revitalization of the Siesta Key public beach's 60-acre park, its stated imperative was two fold. First the Department wanted a prototype for its "two-pole" picnic shelter that could withstand the harsh conditions of the coastal beach environment and, additionally, that its design reflect the history and the significance of the world-famous Sarasota School of Architecture.
The Parks Department had used a standard wooden "two-pole" shade structure throughout the county park system since the 1970s. The original Sarasota County "tow-pole" picnic shelters were created to resemble Seminole chickee huts with wood pole supports and thatched roofs. Eventually, the chickee model evolve d to include metal roofs and square posts, but the basic design has changed little over the past 40 years.
The new Siesta Key picnic structures are sited in a large stand of shade trees, and their design invokes the mid-century modern historic precedent established by the Sarasota School architects. Sarasota architect Edward "Tim" Seibert, FAIA, a well-known practitioner of the style, designed the existing concrete pavilion in the 1950s. That pavilion is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its tapered beams and columns informed the design of the new shelters. Pre-cast concrete was chosen for the new construction because of its durability, its material relationship to the Seibert structure and the ability to fabricate the entire structure off-site. The prototype structure was designed to function as a stand-alone object or to be joined in multiple configurations allowing for larger and more flexible covered areas. Once the pre-cast sections were delivered to the site, they were placed in either single or double configurations. The multi-faceted angular qualities of the quartz-based beach sand give it a prismatic glow that has made the beach famous In terms of the shelter's design, the sand, the view and the landscape were all elements of inspiration.