It was a good news/bad news day in Sarasota, Florida. A couple of dozen protesters stood outside the former Sarasota High School, where part of a concrete canopy designed by Paul Rudolph in 1960 was scheduled to be demolished. But just a few blocks away, officials had gathered to christen the new Center for Architecture Sarasota, one of a growing number of such institutions around the country, and one of the most propitious.

Sarasota has a rich architectural history; in the '50s and '60s it was one of the hotbeds (along with Palm Springs, California, and New Canaan, Connecticut) of modernist innovation. Rudolph, the leader of the so-called Sarasota School, moved north in 1957, but Ralph Twitchell, Victor Lundy, Tim Seibert, Jack West, Philip Hiss, Gene Leedy, Carl Abbott, and others carried on. “We weren’t a cohesive group. We didn’t know it was a school until much later,” says Joe Farrell, a Rudolph protégé who decamped to Honolulu in the early 1960s.

Cynthia Peterson, a former archivist at the University of Florida School of Architecture, was determined to help Sarasota embrace—and then build on—its architectural heritage. When she heard that a handsome glass-and concrete building (designed as a furniture store by Farrell and his then-employer William Rupp in 1960), was about to become vacant, she envisioned a center for architecture sharing the space with a planned satellite program of the University of Florida School of Architecture. Students would work toward masters degrees in one part of the 7,000-square-foot building while architecture center programs would occupy the rest. Once the university agreed, Peterson began raising money—more than $500,000 so far—for the renovation, which her husband, Guy Peterson, a prominent local architect, designed pro bono.

The most interesting thing about the renovation is that Farrell is alive and kicking, at 84, and he made himself available to Peterson. “I didn’t have to wonder what he would have done; I just asked him,” said Peterson at the ribbon cutting last Thursday. Luckily, the building’s key elements were intact, including its two-foot-wide, one-foot-deep, hollow cast concrete roof beams. Farrell and Rupp had extended the beams nine feet beyond the building, creating dramatic overhangs, and carved them into sculptural forms that don’t quite follow function.

Peterson and his project architect Damien Blumetti retained the ceiling, of course, but painted the underside of the overhangs blue, as an experiment in keeping birds from roosting. (The blue is said to make them think they’re looking at sky.) An ebullient Farrell said that when the blue overhangs are illuminated at night, they give the building a halo. “It’s divine,” he pronounced.

Inside, walls were moved and new systems installed; lighting was deigned by Lux Populi, a firm that has worked with Peterson on award-winning houses. The original terrazzo floor was intact, just stained from the printing equipment that Sarasota County (which has owned the building since 1999) once used there. Farrell embraced the discoloration as “a historical memory.”

The main room is a 45-by-35-foot gallery, now displaying photographs of some of the more than 200 buildings that Farrell has completed in his career. As a young man he designed lightweight, limber dwellings reminiscent of Rudolph’s. After the move to Hawaii, he created houses out of dark-stained wood, as well as the “high Brutalist” Prince Kūhiō Federal Building (1970). But he eventually became the design principal of the large firm Architects Hawaii, and the desire to please developers seems to have taken over. There are buildings in pseudo-historical styles and bland glass high-rises, including the 709-unit Moana Pacific condo complex (2003), a pair of elliptical towers that could be anywhere.

Asked what the thread in his work was, Farrell offered one word: “Me.” The size and repetitiveness of his recent buildings may be symbolic of a malaise in architecture generally. So it was good for Farrell to be back in Sarasota, a city where he and architecture gave each other some very good years. A new generation of architects is ready to learn the lessons of his career, and of his modest furniture store with the immodest overhangs. Of the graduate students in the University of Florida satellite program, Cynthia Peterson says, “The building itself will teach them.”