Martin Gold, AIA, is an associate professor of architecture at the University of Florida and the director of CityLab Sarasota, the university’s M.Arch. program focused on emerging technology, culture, and climate-responsive architecture. As such, he’s intimately involved in linking Florida’s past and future, the styles that emerged from its shores, and the challenges that lie ahead. Gold has also practiced since the early 1990s, providing insight into architecture’s daily grind that he feels his students need to have to succeed.
CityLab Sarasota could be called the evolution of the Sarasota School: modern, with newer materials, but still focused on how we connect the inside and the outside. That mindset is still alive here in Sarasota. Underlying all that, of course, is how do we deal with issues like sea level rise? How do we help communities that might have a limited life span? And how do we live in these places as best we can, while also understanding that they’re not going to be here forever?
I try to frame my teachings through the idea of impermanence: the impermanence of the land around us, and this culture, and their evolution. It’s philosophical in a lot of ways. As Florida’s barrier islands are being nibbled away, for example, our focus is on how to keep key infrastructure elements as protected as we can. But at some point you need to plan for change and accept that the human life span and the structure’s life span are very different things.
Once you accept that this is a viable way to look at things, it changes your reactions. Some buildings we keep because they’re fabulous historic buildings. There is often a high cost to doing that, but we do it because it is the right thing to do. On one hand, you might say about a building, “This is unsustainable and a waste of resources to take [it] apart,” but on the other, you might disassemble it and discover that it’s the better choice than new construction. We recycle, we reorganize, we reuse.
Not everything should be impermanent, but when it comes to something like a house—which won’t last more than 15 years in Florida anyway—it might make more sense. That’s Florida’s lineage, too: our culture and history. We build, the storms come in, and then we rebuild. If we embrace that idea and train ourselves accordingly, we can probably design better. We can improve and retool as we move forward.
When it comes to designing and teaching, it’s really rewarding to work in that in-between place. Going back and forth, to me, is critical. If I don’t have some connection to practice, how do I teach people who are going into practice? I find them to be reciprocally rewarding. One feeds the other in a very positive way. —As told to Steve Cimino