When you think of malpractice, bad doctoring probably come to mind, but bad architects are also liable to be hauled into court, particularly if they aren’t licensed.
Last month a Manhattan builder was accused of bilking a couple out of $145,000 in phony costs for his bungled renovation of their vacation house. The builder’s defense? He couldn’t be sued for being a bad architect because he wasn’t an architect. Silly man. If you’re paid for a building job and botch it, licensed or not, you can be sued.
That said, the architectural style known as Mediterranean Revival that marks so many Florida cities, was concocted by an unlicensed architect – Addison Mizner. He never even studied architecture and wasn’t a college graduate, either.
Apparently no one noticed or cared when his creation first popped into view at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Florida in 1921, bankrolled by a member of the Singer sewing machine family. When the rest of Palm Beach’s high society saw Mizner’s baronial allusions to Old World nobility – the balconies, terraces, towers, tile roofs and courtyards – they hired him to fashion the same for them.
Mizner pushed the Old World air further with a weathered look by having his construction teams tread on still-wet concrete stairs in hobnailed boots, and apply condensed milk to walls and ceilings that were then rubbed down with steel wool. He even used inexperienced roofers to get crooked tiles — as if they’ve been knocked about by the ages. His stated ambition was “to make a building look traditional, as though it had fought its way from a small, unimportant structure to a great rambling house that took centuries of different needs and ups and downs of wealth to accomplish.”
Color also mattered to Mizner who painted his buildings in pastel shades instead of white to cut down on the blinding light of the Florida sun. And by varying the roof levels, the houses also rose above Florida’s flat terrain. “Florida is flat as a pancake,” he famously said. “You must build with a strong skyline to give your buildings character. The landscape gives you no help in Florida. You must make your own.”
You won’t find Mediterranean Revival in standard architecture books. Remaining aloof to category, the style has come to mean anything built of stucco and tile with cloistered curves and winsome arches. The style’s only history lies in the biography of a flashy, unlicensed architect, who loved silk pajamas so much that he took to wearing them in the street.
It’s a good thing that nothing went wrong with Mizner’s creations in Palm Beach or else his name would need to be added to the list of Palm Beach’s scandals – a list so long that books have been written about them, like the 1992 “Palm Beach Babylon: Sins, Scams, and Scandals.”