It was the early 1980s and I was working in my studio at UF. Ron Haase, one of my thesis advisors walked in and showed me some documents he brought back from a recent trip to Seaside, Florida.
Seaside, the groundbreaking New Urbanism town in the Florida panhandle, was literally breaking ground. Winner of a recent PA award, Seaside was already getting the attention of architects and planners around the country.
Ron knew I’d be interested because my thesis project concerned writing codes for new development following the principles of traditional urbanism.
The following summer I traveled to Seaside and spent a few days photographing and sketching the emergent new town. I had the good luck to meet Seaside’s founder, Robert S. Davis who kindly answered my questions about the town.
In the years that followed I met Seaside’s town planners, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ). I was privileged to participate in one their famed design charrettes, to create a redevelopment plan for the city of Stuart, Florida. I also came to know Seaside’s town architect, Scott Merrill of Merrill, Pastor, & Colgan, through my AIA chapter. Scott gave me tour of another new urbanism town under construction, Windsor, near Vero Beach, Florida.
These were amazing experiences which left me with deep respect for these important architects and their work. This impacted my practice, in house design and historic preservation. It fired my design activism and informed my involvement in the revitalization of downtown Stuart. These will be topics of future posts.
Back to Grad school: New Urbanism was just emerging in the US when I visited Seaside. Influenced by the urban design theories of European architects such as Rob and Leon Krier, Aldo Rossi, and others, the US movement also drew on the planning principles of the prewar small town. The mantra was “all design is urban design”: the revelation that building form is always shaped by planning imperatives such as lot size and zoning requirements for setbacks.
The new urbanists’ response? Design the town as well as the buildings that go in it.
Here are a few of the sketches I made that day. A squall was blowing in from off the Gulf, a few drops landed on my drawings, hence the inky splotches.
© Donald E. Armstrong and Material Practices, 2013