Dhiru A. Thadani
Introduction by Paul Goldberger
Foreword by Vincent Scully
Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture; Nonfiction, Urban Design
10.8 x 9.8 x 2.3 inches, hardcover, 608 pages
ISBN: 9780847841530
Suggested Retail Price: $75.00

From the Publisher. Time magazine noted that Seaside "could be the most astonishing design achievement of its era…." Visions of Seaside is the most comprehensive book on the history and development of the nation’s first and most influential New Urbanist town. The book chronicles the thirty-year history of the evolution and development of Seaside, Florida, its global influence on town planning, and the resurgence of place-making in the built environment. Through a rich repository of historical materials and writings, the book chronicles numerous architectural and planning schemes, and outlines a blueprint for moving forward over the next 25 to 50 years. Among the many contributors are Deborah Berke, Andrés Duany, Steven Holl, Léon Krier, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Aldo Rossi, and Robert A. M. Stern.

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Phil Patton

Like the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart where leading modernist architects built houses in 1927, or new towns of the 1930s like Radburn, New Jersey, the new town of Seaside, Florida became famous as a subject of architectural discussion almost before it became a physical reality.

A pioneer design of the so-called New Urbanism, Seaside was built beginning in 1981 by Robert Davis, a visionary developer, who inherited the land in the Florida panhandle where the town rose. Seaside was intended to define the essence of comfortable towns in New England, Savannah and Charleston, and other areas in a model town. Its plan, carefully combining public spaces and private areas, was laid out for Davis by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andrés Duany—with much advice. Individual buildings were designed by Deborah Berke, Steven Holl, Léon Krier, Aldo Rossi, and Robert A. M. Stern, who also authored essays included in the book.

The book provides an extensive history of the town as well as discussions about its ideals. Each house— and other buildings, including many that were merely planned, not built—is profiled in this Bible-size collection and the volume is packed with suggestions for alternative town layouts. The book also outlines a blueprint for developing the town over the next 25 to 50 years. 

In the 1980s, Seaside served to crystallize, in alliance and in debate, a widening community with a shared set of ideas, but very different sensibilities, from Léon Krier to Christopher Alexander. The New Urbanism was about ideas but it was style that ultimately defined its limits. But as it took shape, Seaside emerged in popular media—and it was widely covered—as a cartoon of itself. It was depicted as a sort of pastel, po mo village. The houses grew larger and more elaborate than planned. This was in contrast to the town’s early days, which involved a vision of more rugged vernacular architecture, more beach shack than cottage.

As roses and tents selling crafts appeared at Seaside, some of the architects who were early supporters joked about a lost alternative: Darkside, which would have been built of plywood and corrugated tin. The town’s specific rules for building masses and details could seem overweening and bossy. But the results were surprising, as exemplified by a requirement that each house have a white fence in its front yard—a seemingly petty regulation that resulted in a wonderfully eclectic variety of fence designs.

Seaside was criticized as not being “a real test” economically because it was effectively a resort. Indeed, the pattern of Seaside’s growth was not unlike that of early suburbs, like Llewelyn Park, New Jersey, where simple refuges from the city grew into prestige enclosed communities. It was also conflated in the public mind with Celebration, the showcase town built on New Urbanist themes by Disney in Florida. That may be due to its appearance as setting for the 1998 film The Truman Show, where it seemed a colder, less human place than it actually is. Like many things from the 1980s, Seaside suffers in memory.

The historicist and “cutesy” aspect of Seaside architecture may have obscured the ideas of street and town, with emphasis on walking and biking, that it shares with younger urbanists. Younger new modernists differ from the new urbanists before them. They look not to upgrading the suburbs but to upgrading the inner city, and focus less on the house than the apartment building. But Seaside has a lot of lessons to teach.

The need for more discussion of Seaside is established eloquently in the opening pages, with foreword and introduction by Yale’s venerable architectural historian Vincent Scully and critic Paul Goldberger, respectively. Both make the key point: ideas transcend aesthetics at Seaside. As Paul Goldberger puts it, “Form, Seaside tells us over and over again, is not style. And neither is urbanism style.”

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