How Seaside paved the way for Seabrook, Wash. By Stephen Poulakos
This year’s Seaside Prize was a real step back through time for me and likely for many who attended the prestigious annual event. This prize in particular was different, in celebrating the earliest town architects as innovative thinkers who profoundly guided the town’s manifestation into the place we know and enjoy today. These town architects were not only responsible for implementing the broader vision of Seaside Founders Daryl and Robert Davis, but also the celebrated town planners and architects Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. This has been no small undertaking, and each one set the stage for others to follow, emulate and admire. I am just one of many.
While each town architect has had their own unique imprint on the town of Seaside, I found it so fascinating to listen to their personal insights as to how their offices shaped and forged the now iconic town. One thing was clear, they carefully watched over this place while allowing it to also make an impression on their own careers.
In each of the architects’ own presentations, they touched upon the inspirations that meant the most to them. Richard Gibbs relayed his early affinity of houses, both old and new. While growing up in his parent’s modern house in Princeton, New Jersey, he also came to admire the most modest of a Barbados chattel houses, from historic New England colonials to the grandest shingle style mansions of the region.
John Massengale shared more than the command of great architecture, he understood the necessity for all designers to carefully tie their projects to the design of great streets that were built for people. He made it clear that this needed to occur in the most intimate of a small resort town scales to the most urban of places like New York City.
Derrick Smith provided an inside look at the earliest planting of Seaside’s architectural seeds. He explained the special collaborations and alliances that occurred between the architects, builders, and craftsmen to create some of the very first homes and civic buildings. In homage to Black History Month, Derrick gave audiences a unique look at a Florida resort town, American Beach, built by and for African Americans who were looking for a seaside retreat during a time when they were not able to travel freely throughout the segregated South.
Tom Christ, inarguably one of the most prolific architects in Seaside and an early disciple of DPZ, identified some of his favorite homes and most recognizable civic buildings that remain Seaside icons today.
Charles Warren conveyed his unwavering admiration and understanding of scale, proportion and the meaning of place, all virtues found in his works in Seaside and beyond.
The lively panel discussion that followed the architects’ presentations was presided over by Mike Watkins and Steve Mouzon. The discussion was particularly fascinating, as it tackled questions of modern-day building materials versus traditionally historic ones, the appropriateness of new house scales compared to earlier more diminutive home sizes, and the simple dissection of neighborhood architectural influences as diagrammed by Derrick Smith. Smith’s illustration succinctly identified the various iconic American southern cities and towns that have so informed Seaside’s own neighborhoods by identifying them by their unique architectural precedents. This distilled analysis was “truly brilliant” as one panel member put it.
As I mentioned before, Seaside, the New Urbanism movement, and the many great places that have been created as a result of this movement’s charter mission, continue to influence me greatly. It was fascinating to see it all come full circle, and I can’t help but reflect upon the comparisons between Rosemary, Seaside and ultimately the development I’m currently involved with since both places have significantly influenced our own development decisions.
Seaside’s hold on me runs deep and it goes back to the mid-1980s when my parents purchased a condominium in old Seagrove. Through those early years, I feverishly studied Seaside’s growth and decided to attend Auburn University, where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. Yearning for a place in the New Urbanism movement, my time came around 1996 when it was announced that a new DPZ-designed beach town, Rosemary Beach, was going to be constructed just eight miles east of Seaside by Leucadia Financial Company. A couple years later, I learned from Ty Nunn, (Seaside’s current town architect) that Richard Gibbs had stepped down from his role as Seaside’s town architect to become Rosemary Beach’s lead architect under its town founder and president, Patrick Bienvenue.
With Richard’s accumulated Seaside knowledge, his role was a natural fit for the “sister beach town,” and I was fortunate enough to begin my apprenticeship under Gibbs there. We quickly forged a bond as we worked together for six years to build and shape Scenic 30A’s second “new beach town.” Rosemary was built at a fast pace in comparison to Seaside, and this was no different when it came to its retail, civic buildings and many single family residential homes and carriages houses. The architectural style was new to the Panhandle and was derived from the architectural traditions found in Florida’s St. Augustine, the British West Indies and New Orleans, La. Nonetheless, the New Urbanism principles remained at the forefront of the town’s development.
Rosemary Beach’s “Krier walk” is unique in that its boardwalks became the primary pedestrian circulation that led one to and from the beach. Similarly, the mid-block crossings that are so admired in the Seaside town plan, also made their way into Rosemary’s plan adding to the ease of pedestrian movement through the town.
This sister beach town center differed greatly from Seaside’s in that it was oriented in a strong linear north-south axis that connected both the Parkside and the gulf-side neighborhoods which straddled the Scenic 30A highway. Another feature unique to the Rosemary Beach town plan was the mid-block pocket parks, many of which I designed. Similar to Seaside, we carefully mandated the protection of the naturally occurring vegetation, a move that has clearly paid off today as the landscape has now matured into continuous shaded walks that are found all throughout the town.
Near 2003, Rosemary Beach’s development arm was beginning to wind down in Florida, but not before our team was called upon to roll out another small beach village named Draper Lake Coastal Village, a DPZ / Dover-Kohl designed neighborhood near Blue Mountain Beach. Like Rosemary, it too sold out at a rapid pace and was largely guided by Richard Gibbs and Patrick Bienvenue. By this point, it was clear that the Florida Panhandle had a large collective of New Urbanism-inspired towns and villages (Seaside, WaterColor, WaterSound, Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach). Collectively, all these new urbanism developments led to a larger nationwide movement that was ready to expand in the years and decades to follow.
Soon after, in 2004, I decided to take a huge leap of faith. Like Richard Gibb’s migration from Seaside to Rosemary Beach, I carried my own accumulated New Urbanism knowledge base west, to Washington State. It is here where I’ve worked the last 15 years with Seabrook’s Town Founders Laura and Casey Roloff and our Town Planner Laurence Qamar, a DPZ disciple and owner of Qamar Architecture + Town Planning in Portland, Oregon. Together, we’ve fashioned a Pacific Northwest inspired “new” coastal town known as Seabrook, Wash.
Our town boasts a commanding view of the Pacific Ocean and is located approximately two-and-a-half hours west of Seattle, and three hours north of Portland, Ore. Like so many of the places we’ve admired along the Florida Panhandle, our New Urbanism roots run deep. The Roloffs, having long admired Seaside and Rosemary Beach, were heavily influenced by the timeless designs coupled with the other quirky beach towns of the Oregon and Washington Coasts, all of which have served as precedents for Seabrook.
Over all these years, Richard Gibbs has remained a friend, mentor, and advisor to me and to our company. In addition, Larry and Melissa Davis have also been huge supporters and helped guide some of our most important decisions. Last but not least, we simply can’t thank Robert and Daryl Davis enough. They too have advised us through our many years on the Washington Coast and remain constant inspirations for many as they continue to refine the true original, Seaside, Fla.
One of Seabrook’s most significant highlights occurred in October 2014. While we were then celebrating our 10-year milestone, under the umbrella of The Seaside Institute, our team presented the Seabrook town plan for a peer review. The focus was to examine three alternative town center development schemes. The assembled advisory group carefully analyzed and advised us on what we believe will be one of the most picturesque and memorable main streets on the Pacific coast. We are currently developing our “Main Street’ (known as Market Street) as we speak, and we have a deep gratitude for all the incredible influence and advice we’ve received in crafting our own beach town.
Returning to Seaside was a bit of a déjà vu moment for me. It rekindled my own memories of the mid-1980s and then the mid 2000s when Seaside and Rosemary Beach were respectively being “found” by an admiring public in expanding regions of growth. Similarly, Seattle and the Puget Sound region are growing quickly. People are once again finding something special in a place like Seabrook. Who would have ever imagined just how important the seeds planted in Seaside would extend to today?
This year’s Seaside Prize was a special one not only for each and every town architect that has worked on Seaside and similar developments, but for our entire Seabrook development team. Your town continues to provide us with inspiration, hope and appreciation for the true art of town building.
Congratulations to all the 2019 Seaside Prize winners.
Stephen Poulakos is director of town planning and is landscape designer for Seabrook, Wash.