The New Guard of Sarasota Architecture

The founders of Hive Architects are crafting the residences of Sarasota’s future while maintaining a firm grasp on the city’s design legacy


Guided and influenced by the principles of both the Sarasota School of Architecture movement in Florida and the Case Study Houses project in California, Joe Kelly and Gwen Leroy-Kelly, the founders of Hive Architects, are steadily turning out work that’s getting them noticed—both by their peers and the well-heeled buyers that flock to this part of Florida. The recent recipients of two AIA Florida Chapter awards hesitate to call their work tropical modernism, but their designs—of which there are many more to come—speak for themselves. 

When did you know architecture was meant to be your profession?

Gwen Leroy-Kelly: My first day at the University of Florida changed my life. When our professor, Michael Kuenstle, started talking about design and architecture, it resonated with me in a way that had never happened before. I knew that architecture was my future.

Joe Kelly: My father is a graphic designer, so I grew up surrounded by art and design. Later in high school, I had a good friend whose father was an architect, and their home influenced my understanding of how spaces can be designed to suit one’s lifestyle while taking advantage of the site and surrounding landscape. This was the point when the design influence from my father fused with the built environment and was the memory that pulled me back to architecture after first exploring a medical path in college. 

You opened the doors to Hive in 2016. What made you want to set up a studio here in Sarasota?

JK: We once took a seminar about the Case Study Houses project that took place in California after World War II and focused on experimental modern residential designs. We both fell in love with the modern design’s simplicity, the materials and structural expression, and its relationship to the environment. The same thing happened when we explored the history of the Sarasota School of Architecture. As we see it, Sarasota is the perfect place to open an architectural practice focused on modern residential design. 

How would you define the Hive style of architecture?

GLK: Our practice focuses on modern designs that are influenced by the Sarasota School of Architecture movement in Florida and the Case Study Houses program in California, both of which took place from the mid 1940s to 1960s. Our designs are a modern adaptation of the elements that characterize both architectural movements and take into consideration Florida’s subtropical climate and landscape. It is paramount to adapt such designs in a functional manner that accommodates our clients’ modern lifestyles.

Who is the typical Hive client? Is there such a thing? 

JK: Our clients appreciate our consistency in terms of design quality while providing a distinctly unique design approach and aesthetic. Our rigorous pre-design phase allows us to understand our client’s requirements and site conditions before conceiving a concept and schematic design. Each client is unique in their personality, lifestyle, and specific design requirements, and that is what seeds each project. 

What are your pet peeves when it comes to design and architecture today?

GLK: A large misunderstanding exists about true modern architecture and its underlying principles. “Cut-and-paste modern” is quite prevalent in our region. That’s when parts and pieces of well-designed buildings are used as inspiration and interchangeably merged to create a singular design. This trend in Sarasota is detrimental to true modern architecture. 

We can’t mention architecture these days without discussing climate change. In what ways do you address that in your practice?

JK: One primary way we address climate change is to be extremely efficient with our space planning to fit more program requirements in less space. Reducing the total area of a structure due to efficient planning is the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint. Beyond this, we also design spaces with ample daylight to reduce daytime electrical requirements, shading elements to temper the hot Florida sun, and high-performance glass walls that can be opened during the cooler months for cross-ventilation and a connection to the outdoors. 

At the end of the day, what keeps you inspired and excited about your profession?

GLK: Clients who are as passionate as we are about modern architecture inspire us.

JK: Nothing is more motivating than our clients’ trust in our abilities to design a house that will be sensitive to their site, respond to their programmatic requirements, and function seamlessly to fit their lifestyles. Ultimately, we want our clients to have an emotional response that makes them feel uplifted by spaces that we tailor for them.

Story Credits:

Text by Luis R. Rigual

Photos courtesy of Hive Architects

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