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
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