The Umbrella House’s innovative design redefined the American home for the subtropical climate in the post war era. Designed by American Architect Paul M. Rudolph in 1953, the home’s most important character-defining detail was a large exterior shade structure that stood above the house and exterior living spaces. The original umbrella was damaged during a hurricane in the early 1960’s and had to be removed. Numerous earlier attempts to reconstruct the Umbrella failed. In 2015, a rehabilitation and reconstruction program for the Umbrella House was developed where the Umbrella was reconstructed and the building interior was fully rehabilitated. The completed project is open to the public by special arrangement to allow today’s visitors to experience one of the nation’s most important residential buildings and one of the most significant examples of Sarasota School modernism.
Rehabilitation of the Umbrella House included rather ordinary efforts to repair localized damage to floor beams, recondition original monumental jalousie windows, repair of original exterior siding, and repair of original interior plaster wall finish. By themselves and collectively, these efforts were essential for the long-term preservation of this important modern masterpiece. However, what makes this project remarkable was the realization of the longtime dream for the reconstruction of the iconic Umbrella shade structure.
Historically, the greatest challenge to reconstructing the Umbrella has been the inability of wood materials to provide the strength required to meet windstorm design standards of the building code. However, not wanting to give in to the temptation to write off reconstruction as infeasible, research led to consideration of alternate materials for the structural members. Ultimately a solution was found with specialty aluminum extrusions. The aluminum was only used to replace the columns and beams of Rudolph’s design. The joists and lattice remain of cypress. The new Umbrella structural aluminum exactly matches the historic wood members in size and detail and given that the original wood was sanded and painted with a semi-gloss oil-based paint, the aluminum’s powder coated finish is nearly visually indistinguishable from the adjacent painted cypress. Internal stainless steel stiffeners were integrated at critical connections to provide rigidity without affecting appearance. Stainless steel bolts and fasteners were used in the same pattern as the original. No welded connections were used – avoiding the telltale mark that the structural frame was not wood. The result is a new umbrella that is a necessary completion of the house. However, it recreates the original with a new material so that this Umbrella can be understood to be both a part of the original composition and a part of today.