Learn about the winning architectural firm’s approach to reusing IM Pei’s dormitories at the new college
Sarasota firm Sweet Sparkman Architecture & Interiors has been announced as the winner of the “Reimagining Pei” architectural competition led by New College of Florida and Architecture Sarasota, which aims to integrate East Campus student housing into a sports and entertainment complex featuring retail and restaurants.
Designed in the 1960s, the dorms are historically significant and a rare local example of Brutalist architecture by Pei, the architect behind the Louvre Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris and the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Pei died in 2019 at the age of 102. In 2018, the dormitories were named one of the 50 most important mid-century modern buildings in the state. However, it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was recently nominated for this year’s list of six for preservation, which is led by the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation, a local non-profit organization committed to education, advocacy and saving significant local buildings. .
Beloved by architecture enthusiasts, and most important of all are the dorms for New College students, who call the palm-studded court between the buildings, “the “center of the universe,” according to Sarasota architecture chair Maurice “Marty” Hilton.
“There is a strong connection to it, what happens there. For decades it has been the focal point for gatherings and parties,” he says.
The competition also took root after an engineer’s report, published in May, cited mold and moisture damage in dorms as concerns that could affect students’ health. New College moved students scheduled to live there to nearby hotels.
The design competition called for large-scale architects to re-adapt student housing, and three finalists presented their concepts on November 15 in the New College’s Mildred Sayner Pavilion in the presence of more than 200 students, faculty, staff and local residents.
The September finalists announced in September and who submitted their work last week are Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa, STUDIOS Architecture, based in France and the US, and Sweet Sparkman.
“The three finalists were amazing, providing a fantastic visualization of the Bay dormitory and surrounding areas of the campus. The work at hand was amazing,” says New College President Richard Corcoran. “I am grateful that so many members of the New College community and our local community took the time To review the presentations and provide feedback.”
The winner was originally scheduled to be announced on 17 November but was postponed to 21 November so the public could have their say via an online poll. In just three days, more than 300 people submitted their comments. However, despite taking these comments into account, selecting the winner was primarily an internal deliberation.
Concepts were judged on five broad criteria, including overall design, adaptation of existing structure, functionality, feasibility and user experience. There were 35 entries from architects and firms from around the world, and each of the finalists received $10,000 from the New College Foundation to further develop their design concepts. The complex already includes a swimming pool but will eventually include a gymnasium, playgrounds, and fields for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and pickleball to meet the needs of the college’s new athletic programs.
“We thought about distribution and shading, more useful, functional and exciting ways to engage with the space, and of course respected Pei’s original architecture and intent,” says Todd Sweet, principal architect and co-founder of Sweet Sparkman. “We are ecstatic. It is an international competition with very talented and reputable companies, and it is a confidence booster to see this level of determination here locally.
Photographer Jett Lowe, 77, who lived in the dorms while attending New College, will be in Sarasota next month to photograph the dorms in their current original state to document and keep a permanent record of at the National Library of Congress. Lowe has been employed by the US National Park Service on projects of the Historic American Buildings Survey, the Historic American Engineering Register (HAER), and the Register of Large and Often Threatened American Industrial Sites.
But Bay’s dorms are just one slice of what’s coming to New College, while a larger master plan is being put in place, with design led by Sarasota-based Hall Darling Design Studio. In the coming months, the college will begin its first internal master plan meeting and public meetings will follow.
But since New College is a Florida institution, the purchasing process must be followed. This means that just because Sweet Sparkman is selected as the winner of the competition, the architectural firm will not necessarily be on the project.
“We have to submit a request for proposals (RFP), and architects will be invited to be part of that process,” says Marcia Crowley, vice president of campus design and other projects at New College of Florida. Winner (of the Reimagining Pei competition), another architect can respond to the RFP. “It’s an ideas and concept competition first.”
She continues: “We made sure all participants understood and received overall accolades but we cannot promise the project. But they have invested time and energy and will be in the best position to deliver a great proposal.”
We’ll keep you posted on what comes next. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the finalists’ applications.
Sweet Sparkman Interior Design and Architecture (Winner)
Brooks + Scarpa
“Demolition was initially a budget line item. But for architecture in Sarasota, this shows the value of collaboration and good design thinking and how to give new life to an old building,” Hilton says. “We moved on from discussing demolition (which was initially a budget line item) ) to a place where everyone sees these bold concepts and student housing at Bay is not a challenge but an opportunity and a catalyst to reimagine the campus overall.”
Architecture Sarasota will debut an exhibition of the three finalist design concepts on December 5 at 5:30 p.m. Click here for updates. To learn more about each company, click here.