Walker Guest House

Valerie Roche / The News-Press….
Front of the Walker House with the shades up.
Sanibel Island

Date(s): 1952-1953
Location: Sanibel Island, Florida
Status: Built
Type: Residence

Lacking the dynamic roof of the Healey “Cocoon” Guest House (Siesta Key, Florida 1948-9), or the material ingenuity of his signature Twitchell-era Florida Houses identifiable by their jalousie windows, cypress wood accents and Ocala blocks, the seemingly benign Walker Guest House is easily overlooked.

Built of dimensional lumber, it is a product of practicality- at the time of construction, all material deliveries to Sanibel Island needed to arrive by boat making ready-made elements and simple construction financially preferable. Strictly adhering to an 8’ x 8’ cubic module, Rudolph created a one-unit high, three-unit wide by three-unit deep 24’ square pavilion. Offset exterior sister-ed columns frame the structure and visually lighten an already nimble assembly.

These fames support a pulley system connecting a weighted ball and plywood panel. The raised ball shuts the flap to secure the screened bay, when lowered, it yields a canopy of shaded exterior space while affording natural ventilation within and through, earning the guest house the moniker of “the cannonball house” in the process. Occurring on two consecutive of every three bays per side, these panels form a pinwheel that is accented by one solid glass bay or door per side.

Ever practical, the operation of these panels secures the house when not in use, and allows it to expand and literally breathe when occupied. Inside, the one-bedroom is broken into a foursquare parti of living-dining on one half, and the remainder split between bedroom, and utility (bathroom and kitchen).

As the first commission Paul Rudolph accepted after breaking ties with Ralph Twitchell, the Walker Guest House is evidence of an evolving Rudolph. Perennially, the shy draftsman, his business acumen has increased allowing him to poach a client Rudolph previously designed an unrealized main house for under Twitchell.

A continuation of his exercises in the Sarasota School, the house exhibits a pure architectural ideal that is suited to its environment but not necessarily its site, a flat clearing of sand bounded by unkempt vegetation. Ultimately the lessons of the Walker Guest House will manifest themselves in the more complex and comprehensive Hiss “Umbrella” Residence (Lido Shores, Florida 1952).