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Learning from Seaside

Posted on Mar 01, 2013 in Notre Dame , Air Balloon Photos , March-April 2013

Notre Dame and the Seaside Research Portal By Jennifer Parker

The University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture has long been enamored with the community of Seaside. Like most schools of architecture, Seaside is a popular topic taught in both architecture and urbanism classes. Notre Dame also has the good fortune of a personal relationship with town founder Robert Davis. Davis sits on the jury of the Richard H. Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame, which is awarded to an architect whose work embodies the principles of classical and traditional architecture and urbanism in contemporary society. The Driehaus Prize has celebrated the work of Seaside contributors Léon Krier, Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk.

In 2009, Notre Dame and Seaside entered into another kind of relationship — as partners in preserving and sharing the Seaside archives. Supported by the Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame, the Seaside archives were studied, organized and cataloged with the ultimate goal of creating a resource that students, scholars, and enthusiasts could use to study the first New Urban community. Notre Dame wanted to do more than that though; we wanted to create something that would change the way architecture and urbanism was studied through archival materials.

The Seaside Research Portal ( was born out of a desire to understand and share Seaside virtually. Rather than the traditional archival methods, the Seaside Research Portal allows users to study the community geographically and spatially. It organizes materials by location and architect and includes original essays, archival images, and content supplied by architects and homeowners. Best of all, the majority of the written content in the portal was done by students.

The Seaside Research Portal officially launched in January 2012 at the Seaside Prize ceremony honoring architect and portal contributor Scott Merrill. During that same month, 23 architecture students and their professors traveled to Seaside for the first official “Seaside Studio.”

Notre Dame students had visited Seaside prior to 2012, but this was the first time their assignments focused primarily on documentation for the portal.

The students had two primary projects. The first was to create an entry in the portal for one of the yet-to-be designed buildings. Students first sketched the front façade of the building they chose. They then wrote a project description, project specification, and painted a watercolor of their building. Several of the students had the great fortune to interview the homeowners and architects of the buildings they selected.

Their second project was to design a new home for one of the vacant lots adjacent to Seaside’s recreational facilities, which we called Camp Smolian. The students studied the work presented in the portal, were given guided tours by Davis and former town architect and Notre Dame alumnus Braulio Casas, learned about the code and plan from Duany, studied the architecture of Merrill and conducted independent studies of the town for their precedent. The results were presented to community members and founders and have been incorporated into the portal (see Seaside Future at

The first trip was such a success that two additional studios have traveled to Seaside, and a third is in the planning stages. Notre Dame has also continued its commitment to building and enhancing the portal. In December 2012, members of the Seaside Research Portal team, along with colleagues from the Hesburgh Library and Notre Dame’s Academic Technologies unit, traveled to Seaside.

The team worked on site for a week gathering content that will eventually be added to the portal to enhance the user experience. Three members of the team worked primarily on aerial photography — taking Gigapans (zoom-able panoramic photos) from a 35-foot lift and aerial panoramic photos from a camera strapped to a helium balloon. This will allow the team to create a virtual tour of Seaside.

Others worked on taking still photos for each structure in Seaside and mapping the GPS coordinates for each street in Seaside. The photos and GPS will be combined to build a better map tool with which users can understand the urban development of the town. The trip helped those that had not yet been to Seaside to better appreciate its importance in the history of architecture and new urbanism.

Notre Dame has benefited from the generosity of the residents, merchants and homeowners of Seaside. They have invited the students and faculty into their homes and shared their knowledge and experiences. This has resulted in an uncommon and rewarding experience for all who participate.

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Parker is the head of the Architecture Library at the University of Notre Dame. To learn more about The Seaside Research Portal, visit