Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk speaks about her brother-in-law, Douglas Duany at the 2016 Seaside Prize Ceremony
Some 40 years ago, I first saw Douglas when he walked by my college dormitory window. I immediately knew he was a Duany — having met his brother and sister before him — there was something about the pensive stride that gave him away. I didn’t know he would one day be my brother-in-law, or that in that relationship I would enjoy his company and his ideas for many years. I don’t need to tell you that he plays the role kindly and thoughtfully.
I count among his many kindnesses that he brought a great addition to our family, Maria Romero. Maria was a veterinarian when Douglas brought his injured dog to her office. His insistence on spending the night with the dog, a German shepherd, in his cage, impressed Maria. To make a long story short, they are married. She is now a Chinese doctor, and takes care of me, as well as clientele around the world, as she and Douglas travel to minister to needy people in faraway places.
Douglas’s influence on Seaside has been noted, so I will describe other experiences. Like many effective urbanists, he has engaged in
a variety of experiences, including the academic study of psychology in New York and construction contracting in Miami. Not all of these experiences might be considered conclusive, but they certainly contributed to the complexity of his perspective. Extensive submersive reading and days of war games might be included among other influences on his approach to theory and practice.
It should have been no surprise, then, that when we asked him to design and install the courtyard garden of our Coral Gables house, he did so with a very specific theory. I remember saying, “Douglas, what do you mean there can be no flowers?” and “Why is this palm acceptable and that not?” We have been enjoying the outdoor room he created for more than two decades.
Part of the experience of producing that garden was my realization that landscape architects (or at least some) experience pain when they look at the amateurish efforts of others who use nature to embellish buildings.
Douglas’s early garden projects evolved into the deep engagement with urbanism he described earlier this afternoon. I have been on several town planning teams with him. In this also he has developed a unique approach, “ground-truthing,” the natural conditions of a site — taking the time to live the place, its geography, its geology, its climate, the traces of its prior use by animals and people. So, in these endeavors likewise I should not have been surprised when, on an early project, I heard that he spent several days and nights camping on the land, crisscrossing it on foot, sleeping on it at night, getting to know and understand all the details of topography, trees, drainage, orientation to the sun, short views and long views — everything that represents the innate character of the place and contributed to its ultimate urban sense of place. These experiences no doubt contribute to the layered understanding of town plans that he now shares with his students at Notre Dame.
Simply summarized, I do not know anyone else who dedicates himself so thoroughly to understanding the combination of nature and building — he might say the combination of the divine hand and the human hand — that make memorable and lovable places.
Thank you, Douglas for everything you have taught us.