What We Can Learn From the Design Practices of Carl Abbott

Steve Ellis Projects, Thoughts Comments

When it comes to architectural design, Sarasota native (and Sarasota School of Architecture graduate), Carl Abbott has definitely made his mark in the modernist world. Abbott, who has been designing buildings in Sarasota and all over the world for more than 50 years, is one of the most sought-after architects around.  But to all of us, here at MGB, he is a friend who we continue to feel inspired by.  He has certainly made an impact on the way the city looks, as well as how it thinks about architecture, and that is what we at MGB also strive to accomplish.

Carl’s beautiful designs are instantly recognizable – lines are long and horizontal, facades are simple and face the streets, the interiors have an open concept, and big walls are created of glass that look out on natural vegetation (or water if you’re lucky).  One of the most interesting things that his designs offer is that they are never symmetrical, often sprouting wings that intersect and go off at unusual angles. Most notably, each design is always unique and carefully planned, taking direction from the lay of the land, as if growing straight out of it like a natural wonder. That is what makes his work truly great and an inspiration for aspiring architects everywhere.  This is also why, when the time came for one of Carl’s classic, 1980’s homes to be renovated, preserving the iconic piece of architecture was a no-brainer, becoming top priority for the MGB team, ready to make our colleague proud.  

Carl’s ability to make his designs one with the land is his greatest achievement and gift. In fact, many admiring architects and designers refer to him as a “land whisperer,” because the first thing that he does when approaching a new project with a client is walk the land. It’s a true sight to see.  His design inspiration comes from the vegetation, the way the sun hits the trees, and the view. 

MGB Carl Abbott Home Construction-6His design approach is so personal that the structures themselves nearly read as a window into the minds of each and every client. An Abbott design is always prefaced with the questions, “Why did you buy this particular piece of land,” and, “What drew you to this piece of land?”

He then moves on to asking what colors inspire his clients, and what kind of plants and trees they like. (If you look at pictures of an Abbott design, you’ll notice that every picture is full of trees and sky, even though you’re inside.) It is from these basic questions that his design starts to form – not according to numbers and square footage, but according to the dips and bows of the natural environment.

When it comes to the actual development of his designs, Carl continues his minimalist theme, keeping his office intimate in scale. Though it seems hard to believe, given his extraordinary resume of work, he has never had hundreds of architects working for him (In fact, he has worked with a team as little as five!). Carl prefers to work with a very small, tight-knit group of people. He enjoys designing and having direct contact with each of his clients and contractors, simply because his ability to form relationships is part of his process.

Everyone is exposed to architecture, but Carl Abbott clearly sees it differently than the average passerby who may just look up and see a pretty building. He sees and understands the concept of a building and how well that concept is carried out.  For the MGB team, he continues to be an inspiration for unique and innovative designs as well as a driving force for continued excellence.

It is safe to say, especially according to Sarasotans, that Carl has been singled out among his contemporaries as having mastered his art. He’s an architect who believes in functionality as much as beauty, and that man and nature should remain connected even through structural barrier. It is this profound lesson that we can all learn from the design practices of Carl Abbott.