seeing seaside

August 4th 2016 Comments: 9 Topics: , , ,


Today’s guest writer is one of our firm’s newest additions – Mary Catherine Walter. Please welcome a young voice and perspective.

Before last weekend, Seaside, Florida was only a familiar fiction to me, a resort town I had heard both praised and criticized, a controversy, the first born of New Urbanism. Kate Chambers, an intern in McAlpine’s Montgomery office (and a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame) and I had heard so much about it that for some time I had jokingly questioned its existence. The chance to discover Seaside for ourselves came during Kate’s last weekend of interning when we spontaneously planned a weekend trip made possible by the generous hospitality of Richard Norris.

I had first heard of Seaside when The Truman Show was assigned in freshman year of architecture school. Presenting only a cinematic representation, the professor described Seaside as empty, lifeless, and artificial and I was ill-equipped to believe otherwise. At the end of a year I transferred to the University of Notre Dame where they used different words regarding its design, like beauty. There I became an officer of the group Students for New Urbanism and was taught by Douglas Duany, urbanist, brother of Andres Duany of DPZ fame, and winner of the 2016 Seaside Prize. Douglas was first to tell me of McAlpine and, now recently graduated from Notre Dame, I found myself visiting Seaside after not even settled a month full-time in the Montgomery office.

Last Friday we arrived in Seagrove and walked down to the beach before midnight, struck by the sight of stars undisturbed by streetlights or pollution. We counted shooting stars and took in the dark infinity of sky and sea stretched before us.

The next morning was heavy with humidity and the smell of sunscreen and salt filled the air as families headed to the Gulf’s shores. I couldn’t help but juxtapose the experience to memories of going down to the ocean with my family in Maryland. Places are linked so much to our memories; I wonder what Seaside means to those vacationing every year?

With the plan of Seaside memorized in our minds, and Richard as our trusty guide, we were ready to start the tour. As with other places one has explored in school but not in life, we had the feeling of déjà vu as we traversed the small town. Although we had been warned of summer crowds, Kate and I were both surprised by the multitude of cars and the tightness of pedestrian traffic. We spent the weekend on bikes as Richard narrated stories of Seaside’s history, beginning with Tupelo Street. We browsed Modica Market, walked the hidden footpaths between houses, and toured inside the Robert Stern house after closing down Bud and Alley’s the night before. It was interesting to see the presence of Jefferson’s UVA in the neighborhood school campus and feel the shift from the activity of downtown to the quiet green of the artists’ community in Ruskin Place. On our final day we biked through the quiet town of WaterColor before enjoying the beach once more, and finally driving back to Alabama.

– Mary Catherine Walter














  1. I love Seaside and enjoyed reading your perspective as a first time visitor. I first learned of seaside from a AU classmate and one of Seaside’s first town Architect team member, Bob Lamar. The project he is most. Proud of there is the post office, which he was heavily involved with in it’s design. I have been fortunate to have designed several new homes and renovations over the years. As a homeowner also it was interesting to see it evolve from my first visit in 1989. I truely miss it now but I still manage to visit it. You need to visit again to. You will find something new everytime you go.

  2. Bonnie Pineau says:

    I think it was the start of a really beautiful thing! The 30A is one of our favorite spots… Would we have the incredible Rosemary Beach, Water Color, or the ever so chic Alys Beach if it weren’t for Seaside?

  3. Mallory Martin says:

    I’m sure you forgot my shoutout on accident 😉 Enjoyed getting to spend some time with you guys!

  4. Mary Robin Jurkiewicz says:

    As I read your post, I reminisced about my first time to visit, also as an architecture student, with professors and a group from Auburn. Incidentally, that group included this post’s usual author. As a native of the Alabama Gulf Coast just to the west, I found Seaside so magically fresh with a brand new beach language I’d never seen: I mean, who doesn’t build right on the Gulf first? Well, these designers (DPZ) didn’t and it stretched me to comprehend a development that gave some of the most valuable land for public enjoyment. Whereas most pathways for those who lived across the road were unkempt, forgotten, and overgrown, these beach accesses were very visible, playful invitations to cross 30A and make a grand entrance onto the sugar white sands. One even felt grand lingering in those structures as the beach awaited below.
    The subsequent times Greg and I spent in Seaside were also with the esteemed Richard Norris when he was Executive Director of The Seaside Institute. A finer guide and historian you could not have had. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

  5. Andres Duany says:

    Mary is a spectacularly talented photographer, among other virtues, i am sure.
    I am very very grateful for the many McAlpine buildings in the communities we have designed. Absolutely tops in talent. I love them!

  6. Elated you experienced Seaside biking!
    It’s a place you feel as if, taken back in
    time! Biking along side of the cottages
    to Charlie greeting you at the Modica Market,
    it’s the start of a magical day! Ruskin Place
    is mesmerizing and the quaint chapel and
    exquisite architecturally acclaimed Post Office!
    To bike or walk along the pathways with the scrub oaks towering over you, just makes for a pleasant
    day, as well! Thanks for sharing your love of
    the architecture and the area! Thoroughly
    enjoyed your writing!

  7. Dee Coleman says:

    Greg, I loved this beautifully done article on Seaside! It is truly amazing how far Seaside has come since 1982 when Bill bought the property down there and developed our little neighborhood! The vegetation was about two feet tall and there were practically NO buildings! I remember being “bugged” with Bill for buying the property there because the closest grocery store was in Destin or Panama City!! Times have changed!
    All the best for all you do to make our world more beautiful!

  8. Tom Green says:

    Great job Mary and welcome to the best Architectural firm since Palladio. I’ve got photographs of Seaside when nothing was there but the post office and a faded lots for sale sign. Guess I’ll have to give them to the Smithsonian. I’m sure you now know Bobbys secret weapon is Richard Norris who helps the magic happen with extra grace and class.

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