Florida Buildings I Love: No. 118: RainGarden Lofts, 2015, Winter Haven

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The RainGarden Lofts in Winter Haven. Architect Max Strang was inspired by Paul Rudolph’s 1958 Deering Residence on Casey Key.
The RainGarden Lofts in Winter Haven. Architect Max Strang was inspired by Paul Rudolph’s 1958 Deering Residence on Casey Key.

Just a few months after Winter Haven’s most famous architect, Gene Leedy, passed away, I finally selected a building in Polk County’s second-largest city – and it is not by him.

Using his signature construction method, the double-T concrete beam, Leedy designed most of the important modern buildings in town. But in 2015, a young architect who grew up in a Leedy house, and once worked for him, designed a townhouse building that is special in its own right.

The architect is Winter Haven native Max Strang, who has made a name for himself designing award-winning buildings in Miami.

It always helps to have a family member as a client, and, in this case, the client was Max’s brother, Bud Strang, whose company has redeveloped a number of buildings here and there in downtown Winter Haven.

This is a city on the move, thanks in part to the efforts of the Strang family. Bud’s wife, Anita, is executive director of Main Street Winter Haven, which organizes events to promote downtown.

The RainGarden Lofts was the first residential building to be built in downtown Winter Haven in more than 20 years.
The RainGarden Lofts was the first residential building to be built in downtown Winter Haven in more than 20 years.

The RainGarden Lofts was the first residential building to be built in downtown Winter Haven in more than 20 years, and is a symbol of the new energy found in “The Chain of Lakes City.”

It also is iconic of the influence of the Sarasota School of architecture, which Leedy played a key role in popularizing. Awareness of the regional adaptation of International School modernism might have faded away had Leedy not promoted the historical concept of a “school” – a collection of like-minded practitioners – that took root in Florida in the 1940s and 1950s.

Leedy chose “The Sarasota School” as the theme of the 1982 convention of the American Institute of Architects’ Florida chapter in Tampa. A few years later, Tampa architect John Howey, impressed with Leedy’s colorful stories of the good old days, encouraged Leedy to write a book.

“Nah, you write the book,” Leedy told Howey in his gravelly drawl, “because I want to be in it.”

Howey did just that, publishing “The Sarasota School of Architecture” in 1995, and the SSofA gained stature. Sarasota’s architectural tourism industry was born.

While the book was being written, Max Strang was an intern in Gene Leedy’s office. The master sent him to Tampa to do drawings for Howey’s book.

But that was not his only exposure to the work of Paul Rudolph, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, Leedy and others. Max’s parents had a house on Casey Key, not far down the beach from Rudolph’s Deering Residence. Its water-facing façade, dominated by vertical concrete columns, inspired Max Strang’s RainGarden building, where the view is quite a bit different. Which is to say, it looks out on a rather nondescript streetscape.

The fin-like columns add visual interest and also help shade the windows from morning and afternoon sunlight.
The fin-like columns add visual interest and also help shade the windows from morning and afternoon sunlight.

The fin-like columns add visual interest and also help shade the windows from morning and afternoon sunlight.

“A good Sarasota School of architecture house blurs the indoor-outdoor (divide) so well – the walls of glass, the light coming in from different directions,” Strang told the Herald-Tribune in 2017. “For me, it is a sense of peace when you are inside.”

Strang used paint with iron flakes to create the look of Cor-Ten “weathering steel” panels without the problems and expense.
Strang used paint with iron flakes to create the look of Cor-Ten “weathering steel” panels without the problems and expense.

Strang used paint with iron flakes over parts of the stucco walls to create the look of Cor-Ten “weathering steel” panels without the problems and expense. The “iron paint” is on the courtyard entrance gates, too. The effect is to add maintenance-free color to the building. A vine-covered wall provides private courtyards for the rental apartments.

“Florida Buildings I Love” is Harold Bubil’s homage to the Sunshine State’s built environment. This article originally ran on April 13, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Buildings I Love, Harold Bubil: No. 118: RainGarden Lofts, 2015, Winter Haven

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