The Academic Village
The Seaside Institute’s Academic Village is comprised of 7 cottages with 11 separate sleeping quarters, each with a private bath. All surround a large courtyard space where outdoor classes and other events can be held. Classroom space and lecture/exhibit hall space is located in the adjacent Assembly Hall creating a campus-like venue for learning and discovery. Since it has opened, the Seaside Institute has hosted architects, planners, artists, university students and professionals who have held workshops, classes and seminars in the space.
The idea of an academic village in Seaside predates the founding of our town by a decade. In the early seventies, Seaside founder Robert Davis’s grandparents, JS and Bertha Smolian, gave several acres of land west of Seagrove Beach to the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), an institution they had supported philanthropically since the early fifties. Joe Volker, UAB’s entrepreneurial president wanted a faculty retreat and small meeting center, in part as a way of attracting faculty. In the mid-seventies, Davis was asked to help develop plans and a business model for the project. Unfortunately, this plan was never realized, and Davis eventually purchased the land has grandparents had donated to UAB. Years later, while designing the town of Seaside, Davis’s grandparents’ dream of their Florida property becoming a center for learning became part of plan from the beginning.
In early 2011, the opportunity to purchase Katrina cottages from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) came to the attention of the Seaside Institute director, Diane Dorney. These 450-square-foot cottages were designed by a team of architects during a mega-planning charrette led by Andrés Duany, which brought together several hundred experts to help guide Mississippi’s recovery after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.
These well-built, comfortable and dignified small houses represent a great victory over the FEMA trailers, which had become the default setting for emergency housing. After several years of use by victims of the storm, the cottages had to go back to MEMA and were eventually auctioned off. The Davis Family Foundation procured 8 at the auction and donated them to the Institute.
The original plan for the Academic Village, designed by Andres Duany, located the cottages in the Lyceum horseshoe, an important civic space in Seaside. However, the location was controversial, and the cottages eventually were placed opposite two of the school buildings in the Lyceum, along with a two-story building that would become Assembly Hall, where the Seaside Institute has an office and needed classroom and exhibition/lecture space is housed.
Recycling older buildings and elevating shacks, shipping containers, Airstream trailers and humble houses to positions of civic dignity has been part of Seaside’s genius loci — its distinctive spirit and sense of place — since the early eighties. Downtown Seaside started with a half-dozen picnic tables under canvas and an eight-foot-square plywood shack, the first Shrimp Shack. (The original Shrimp Shack is now Pickles.) The current Shrimp Shack, and the bar of Bud and Alley’s were two sharecroppers’ cabins, moved to Seaside in 1982 to frame Seaside’s central axis from the Chapel to the Gulf. A third sharecropper’s cabin housed Seaside’s first town architects. The Great Southern was an old house on its last legs, moved to Seaside from Chattahoochee, FL. The Katrina cottages in the Academic Village join this esteemed list of modest structures with great ambition.
The cottages will house students and faculties coming to Seaside for courses and seminars. They will also house participants in Seaside Institute seminars and other educational programs, such as workshops for writers, painters, and photographers. They will not be part of a general vacation rental program.