Gene Leedy was an inventive architect and teacher with the mind of an engineer. He is a central figure in the development of pre-stressed concrete including the “Double T” so called because of their shape.
Gene was born in 1928 in Isaban, West Virginia, his father was a supervisor for a local coal mining company and his mother taught school in a one-room schoolhouse. They eventually relocated to Gainesville Florida where his dad opened a restaurant.
When 16, Gene attended the University of Florida where he studied architecture. He married his first wife in Arlington Virginia in July after graduating with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1950. The couple settled in Sarasota where he worked for Ralph and William Zimmerman architects, and also for Paul Rudolph Architect. During this time he was called to serve in the military as an engineer in New York, for the Korean War.
Gene Leedy Residence Winter Haven, image courtesy of Max Strang
In 1954 he relocated his family to Winter Haven and opened his own practice. His first commission was the Sparrow House. The residence was featured in House and Home Magazine’s 1956 Best Home. Rows of steel columns laid out in grids around a central courtyard were in-filled with walls of glass and local masonry block. The Florida climate allowed for the free flow of space between the indoors and the courtyards, which helped cool the house in this era before air conditioning. These motifs would be explored again over the next few years in the Kaiser Residence and Gene Leedy’s own home, both close by on Drexel Drive. Craney Homes, Inc. was his early patron commissioning him to develop a subdivision of homes in that area. Today you can find a walking tour and supporting narrative on the Leedy Lifetime Works website in the references below.
Kaiser Residence Winter Haven, image courtesy of Max Strang
This period of his career culminated in the commission for the Winter Haven City Hall in 1960. Similar to the homes, but elevated to a civic robustness, the city hall was wrapped in a grid of columns. Glass skylights vented the interior providing natural cooling. Originally the building had an open atrium through the center, with glass walls that could open along the concourse allowing easy circulation between departments.
Winter Haven City Hall, image courtesy of Robert Holland
Original Winter Haven City Hall, courtesy of Max Strang
Within the next year, he finished his iconic office, showcasing his exploration into prestressed concrete framing and the ubiquitous Double T floor and roof structure which would become his signature style. In the next decade he finished a dozen commissions with these Double T frames for doctors, lawyers, banks and other institutions in Winter Haven. You can also see these on the same website mentioned before.
Gene Leedy Office Winter Haven, image courtesy of Max Strang
Gene had one son with his first wife. He married again in 1960 and had a daughter and another son by his second wife. Leedy was selected as one of Architectural Record magazine's successful young architects in 1965 with a published portfolio of his work. In 1988, he was awarded the lifetime design achievement award from the Florida Association of Architects. He became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1992.
Gene has been recognized numerous times by the Prestressed Concrete Institute for his outstanding design work. For many decades he was an ongoing Architectural Design Consultant to Alfred A. Yee and Associates, Architects & Engineers, and Others, Honolulu, Hawaii. His buildings and designs have been featured in many national and international exhibits.
In the later decades of the 20th century clients continued to seek him out for his expressive style of cantilevered floors and glass mixed with pitched clay tile roofs that felt right at home in the Florida landscape, such as the Strang Residence and the Dorman Residences below.
Strang Residence Winter Haven, image courtesy of Max Strang
Dorman Residence Winter Haven, image courtesy of Max Strang
Gene maintained strong ties with those friends he started out working with in Sarasota, a group that is now referred to as the “Sarasota School” of architects. He coined the moniker, as he introduced his colleagues at an architectural symposium he organized many years later. He believed the best architects in the world lived and worked with him in those early days in Sarasota. Gene Leedy passed away in 2018 at the age of 90.
Please enjoy the extensive bio, photography, tour maps, audio recordings and project information available at the Leedy Lifetime Works website below:
http://www.geneleedy.com/ (Leedy Lifetime Works)
Gene Leedy and the Sarasota School, Richard Reep AIA, ARCHITECTURAL GUIDE TO CENTRAL FLORIDA, Orlando Foundation for Architecture & AIA Orlando, 2017, pg 196-198