Bal Harbour Club, Bal Harbour, Florida. 1952 (Demolished 2001) Organic yet minimal, the clubhouse was built as a hurricane and flood-resistant space with elegant persiana doors that captured the breezes while overhangs provided sun-shading to naturally cool its interior.
Book Review | The Architecture of Alfred Browning Parker
TextPhotos Ezra Stoller / ESTO
A staunch believer that architecture should be indigenous and possess simplicity, Alfred Browning Parker was one of Floridaís modern pioneers. He saw the youthful Sunshine State and its environment as a place where buildings should be wholly integrated with each specific site and to the natural world.
Randolph Henning is an architect and author who meticulously chronicled Parkerís many projects, thoughts and reflections as he got to know the trailblazer over the course of many years. Alfred Parker was one of the few 20th-century architects to receive praise from Frank Lloyd Wright for his work. Though Parker did not apprentice under Americaís most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright was a mentor to Parker and Parkerís work clearly was inspired by Wrightís use of angles, vegetation and multi-level spaces that became one with the landscape. Parkerís concepts were tropical takes on organic architecture that could take advantage of indoor-outdoor living for much of the year.
The book contains an insightful biographical sketch of Parkerís early life and is presented in four sections that showcase his varied concepts from the 1940s into the 21st century. Images and details of Parkerís many residential, municipal and commercial structures, built, un-built and demolished, come together in a type of captivating time capsule that is seductive, even to those who might find organic architecture trite.
Prior to the invention of air conditioning, Alfred Parker worked almost as a modern-day environmental designer would today: He incorporated sun shading, cross-ventilation, energy efficiency and daylight into his structures and worked primarily with local building materials to express himself and his clients. Young Al Parker began his professional career actually building several of his designs for clients on tight budgets, which gave him greater knowledge and confidence for more complex building challenges that lay ahead.
At the apex of his career Parker was a star in South Florida and across the nation designing everything from lavish residences and office buildings to shopping centers and sanctuaries. Handsome and charismatic, he appeared on television and radio shows and in numerous publications discussing the importance of modern architecture in America. Like Wright, Parker often looked to nature to inspire his forms and interior spaces; but unlike Wright, whose career was booming in his last years, Parkerís commissions slowly declined and some of his work lost its luster as tastes shifted in the late 20th century.
A constant thinker and a survivor, Parker spent most of his golden years teaching architecture at his alma mater, The University of Florida. His courses emphasized the need for architects to understand how to actually design and construct their buildings from start to finish. Discussing architecture with students and design enthusiasts was a facet of Parkerís everyday life that kept him engaged up until his death in 2011.
Randolph Henning has skillfully recorded much of Alfred Browning Parkerís personal and professional life in this book, and he gives readers a rare, candid glimpse of a man whose passion was to contemplate and celebrate life, write, draw Ėand to build!