Last weekend in Tampa, Bruce Gora was posthumously honored at the annual Florida American Institute of Architects convention with the 2009 Silver Medal Award for Community Service. His wife Carolyn, two brothers, his business partner, Dan McGahey, and colleague, Ken Buschle, accepted the award on his behalf.
I sat with Bruce in his modern house in Fort Myers last November, a few weeks before he passed away Dec. 18.
We covered all subjects architectural: the good, the bad, the ugly, the expectations, the frustrations and what we could anticipate for the future.
Bruce’s eyes looked very tired, but his mind was racing and he wasn’t able to hide his enthusiasm or his frustrations about the industry. A deeply passionate man, he cared about his community on many levels.
“There was a certain simplicity about the buildings in Southwest Florida when I arrived here in 1976. The older buildings of the ’50s and ’60s were designed by talented architects greatly influenced by the Sarasota School — elegant modern designs that acknowledged the climate, an overabundance of sun and the torrential rains of the summer…Even the more recent building of the ’70s, though less about the artistic and all about function, were clean and straightforward structures, built for this place,” he said.
Not long after Bruce settled here, he set up his own practice, building medical and other office buildings. He got the reputation as an architect who exceeded the client’s expectations by creating buildings that not only functioned but were pleasant places to live or work.
Early clients, often doctors, still practice in the same buildings because they are full of natural light with floor to ceiling windows that open out to mature vegetation.
More recently, though, it hasn’t been easy to convince clients that good design pays off. “It just isn’t the priority it once was in Florida, when some of the best buildings in the world were being designed right here,” Bruce unhappily admitted.
A number of factors have influenced architecture and the public’s perception of what should be built.
Design Committees have sprung up in every community, which frustrate the natural process of design. The guidelines created by these groups were originally intended to provide a framework for limiting scale and articulating mass. Instead, booklets have been produced that contain cartooned examples of buildings which are interpreted as Mediterranean or mediocre old fashioned buildings. In order meet the codes, the guidelines encourage developers and clients to poorly replicate traditional designs instead of innovating new.
Historical boards, organized for the purpose of protection and preservation of old buildings now dictate new buildings look old. Bruce and I concurred, new buildings, next to old or within an historical area must be differentiated from the structures of the past. They must be new, functional and of our time, otherwise, we are creating a fake history – a historical architecture that never existed.
As practicing architects, we both agree it is more difficult then ever to convince clients that hiring an architect is not just a necessary evil to get plans through the building department.*
Bruce spoke highly of other talented architects in the area, his contemporaries and often his professional rivals.
Again, I sensed a profound frustration as he expressed concern about the talented young architects who arrived here during the building boom. He deliberated how to keep them here to benefit our community in the future. Even in November though, the recession had taken a toll on the construction industry and he appreciated with few projects and even less of them, interesting design, they would move on.*
Bruce had no regrets about his past but remained deeply concern about the present and most importantly, he still cared, passionately, about the future.
*Submitted but not published = Gora Unplugged