The Role of the Town Architect

The concept of the Town Architect was developed during the first Seaside Charrette held in the summer of 1983. During the charrette it was concluded that someone must supervise and interpret the implementation of the Seaside Plan and Code. It was also hoped that those who purchased properties in Seaside would hire the Town Architect to design their cottages. The first Town Architects were members of the “Night Crew”, those working at the 1983 charrette, who were responsible for the layout of streets and early buildings. Over the years Seaside has evolved and so has the role of the Town Architect. In the beginning the Town Architect would work with homeowners and builders to draft their cottages. Now, with Seaside nearly complete, the Town Architect often acts as the architect on record or works with the homeowners chosen architect on code and regulations.

Town Architects

Teófilo Victoria Teófilo Victoria

Teófilo Victoria began his education in Germany studying naval architecture. He came to the United States in the early 70s to study architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he earned his Bachelor of Architecture in 1979. He went on to Columbia University and graduated in 1982 with a Master’s Degree in Architecture and Urban Design. His first contact with Seaside came during his years as a graduate student. In 1980 he worked for Arquitectonica, the firm in which Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk were partners at the time. He was involved in work on the initial drawings for Seaside before enrolling at Columbia University and finishing his graduate education.

In 1982 Andrés Duany asked Teófilo Victoria, along with Ernesto Buch— Duany’s cousin—and Victoria Casasco, to come and join the Seaside charette. The idea of the charette—one rarely, if ever, used since the Beaux Arts—was one of many ideas that Duany and Plater-Zyberk were trying out as part of their experiment in comprehensive town planning. Another idea which was part of their grand experiment was the position of Town Architect. Teófilo Victoria became the first Town Architect of Seaside in 1983. His experience in the position made it a role which has continued to be an important part of Seaside to the present day.

Being the first person to assume the role of Town Architect in Seaside was certainly exciting—everyone in Seaside at that time was thrilled by the novelty of what they were creating and the proposition of it actually coming to fruition and taking form – but it was also a great challenge. The position was untested, without any specific duties, expectations or restrictions. Today, however, Victoria considers his role in defining the responsibilities of the Town Architect for the future to be his greatest accomplishment in that position. They looked to lofty examples while trying to decide what role exactly the Town Architect should have in the designing of towns and the building of cities, examining the roles of Giotto in Florence and Schinckel in Berlin. The value of having a single architect on site to work with developers, engineers and surveyors simultaneously was always evident however and Victoria claims his greatest contribution to Seaside “was in helping to recover this tradition in city building that had [been] abandoned by the discipline of architecture.”

One of the greatest challenges Victoria faced while Town Architect was the threat of the unknown—and much was unknown at that time. Any kind of town building, let alone the type of town they were proposing, was unheard of in the early 80s. The implementation and practice of this brave new idea, even more so than the idea itself, was unpredictable and uncertain. Though it had the unwavering support of the small collection of people who were in Seaside from the beginning, including Teófilo Victoria, at that time it was only “a compellingly beautiful setting… the forlorn quality and melancholy of what could be understood as wilderness.”

As someone who was working in Seaside from its earliest beginnings, one would expect Victoria’s thoughts on Seaside to be much different today, nearly thirty years later. However, Victoria asserts that he sees “Seaside today much as [he] saw it then. [He] understood then that the value of what Andrés, Lizz and Robert [were] proposing was nothing less than the return of Architecture to Urbanism.” This new way of thinking about architecture as inextricably linked to the design of cities is what led to the New Urbanism, of which Victoria was an early contributor. He describes New Urbanism as “the only coherent and systematic proposal for city building today… there is no other proposal that can address the construction of the city in a predictable and measured manner.”

Today Teófilo Victoria is an architect and urbanist and a Principal in delaGuardiaVictoria Architects and Urbanists, the firm he owns with his partner Maria de la Guardia. They have recently been awarded a Palladio Award for Excellence in Classical and Traditional Design, a Charter Award from the Congress for The New Urbanism, and the Phillip Trammell Schutze Award for their work. DLGV Architects and Urbanists practice classical architecture and traditional urbanism in the United States and abroad. Victoria has taught at Harvard University, Cornell University, and the University of Miami where he has also served as Undergraduate Program Director and Graduate Program Director. He is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and the Institute for Classical Architecture and Classical America.

Selected Projects

Ernesto Buch Ernesto Buch

Ernesto Buch has been a lifelong proponent of Classical and Traditional architecture, from his youth in Cuba and Miami, through his education at Miami and Harvard, and into his professional career as an architect. This very specific ideology was one he shared with Andrés Duany, who invited Buch to Seaside during its earliest days to be part of the “Night Crew.” There, he was involved in the foundations of Seaside: the plan, the code and the first structures. In August of 1983, he took on a new role in the small town, as Seaside’s second Town Architect.

Buch describes his involvement in Seaside and his tenure as Town Architect as a pivotal experience in his professional career. Also among his most important moments are his first projects as a practicing architect, which were built in Seaside during his tenure. The very first building was the Tupelo Street Beach Pavilion, the first of what became a tradition of beach pavilions built in Seaside. A true representative of the vernacular style, today it remains an icon of the New Urbanist community that Seaside has become.

Buch considers his time in Seaside as fundamental to his development as a traditional urbanist as well. His philosophy on urbanism is that all urbanism is traditional, and it should need no qualification. “Modernist planning principles are anti-urban…suburban sprawl of the last 65 years is the anti-city.” He feels that Seaside is an attempt to design the traditional small town of America. As a built project, it may not match the ideal designed for it, but after nearly thirty years it can be judged and evaluated for both its successes and its failures. It can be a learning institute for the practitioners of today.

Buch started his own firm, Ernesto Buch Architect, Inc., in 1987, and today he remains a partner there. He has offices in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and in New Haven Connecticut, where he first started. His work consists almost exclusively of private residences by the sea in the Classical style. The firm‘s work has been published in various publications and has been given several awards, including the Arthur Ross Award in 1994 and the Charles A. Barrett Award in 2008.

Selected Projects

Thomas Christ Thomas Christ

Tom Christ did his first work in an architectural firm before he even began his architectural education, working in a local office as a draftsman during high school summers. He received his formal education from Florida A&M, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree, and returning immediately to work in various areas of Miami. It was during this early period in his career that he went to work for Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk when they were first starting their firm, DPZ. His time at DPZ was also his introduction to Seaside; he worked on the final stages of land planning for the town and on some of the prototypical houses also worked on by the “Night Crew.”

It was during his time working with DPZ that Christ met Robert Davis. In 1984 Davis asked Christ to come to Seaside to serve as Town Architect for a year. So Christ and his wife moved to the beach, planning to stay only a year, not knowing that they would end up staying for another thirty years. While serving as Town Architect, Christ received numerous commissions very quickly, including several of the early houses on Tupelo Street and Ruskin Street, along with the Savannah Street Beach Pavilion. He also worked on some of the buildings in the work area, including a tower on axis with Tupelo Street, called “Poet’s Tower.”

Although his year-long tenure as was very busy, Christ considers his greatest accomplishment as Town Architect his time spent working with some of the excellent architects at Seaside at that time, particularly Andrés Duany. They all shared many of what he feels were the greatest challenges of working in Seaside so early in its existence: designing houses using a new type of code, while also defining a specific southern vernacular style and striving to keep clients content. Christ observes that although there were plenty of examples of the northern Florida style in the area—both good and bad—many architects of the early years sought to develop their own styles and interpretations of the vernacular. This endeavor led them to push the envelope and test how far the design code could go. He believes that although the perception was that architects should not stray too far from the intent of the code, both Robert Davis and Andrés Duany encouraged and even desired pushing the boundaries of the code to see just what it could become. Although this was challenging for the many young architects working in Seaside, and did not always yield successful designs, it was an important aspect of early Seaside.

Thirty years later, Christ looks back fondly on the very early days of Seaside. It was a time when architects and contractors were all working together and having fun, experimenting constantly with everyone equally excited to try something new and different. Every day ended with volleyball on the beach. It was a good time for everyone, but as the town began to grow, likewise the responsibilities and the attitude of Seaside shifted to become more work-focused. Christ also found it fascinating to watch the town grow over the last thirty years: from a small town with simple little cottages to a larger town of more complex structures. The whole attitude of the town has changed, and he has found it interesting to see how exposure to different influences can affect the growth of a place over time. In Seaside those influences were mostly economical, and Christ points out a visual division in the town from the eastern-most portions, the oldest part of Seaside, to the newer western half of the town. As land values rose, the clients began pushing for “bigger, better, taller” then they had before. This phenomenon was widespread in Seaside and changed the look and feel of the town, which started so small, to something bigger but, in his opinion, not as special. Even so, it still remains a beautiful and unique place.

Today, Tom Christ is partner and owner of his own firm, Christ & Associates, located in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. His firm primarily does custom residential work, as well as commercial projects, interior design, and landscaping. Christ is still active in Seaside as well, having done eighty-five private residences there to date. Their work has been showcased in many books and magazines and has been featured on the HGTV cable network.

Selected Projects

John Montague Massengale, AIA

John Montague Massengale AIA has won awards for architecture, urbanism, architectural history and historic preservation, from organizations and publications ranging from Progressive Architecture and Metropolitan Home, to the National Book Award Foundation (with the first architecture book to be nominated for a National Book Award), to multiple chapters of the American Institute of Architects. A founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, he is the Chair of the New York chapter, CNU New York, and a former board member of the ICAA (Institute for Classical Art & Architecture) and FCWC (Federated Conservationists of Westchester County).

A self-described “Recovering Architect,” he likes all sorts of towns, cities and buildings, but designs Classical buildings and traditional neighborhoods and towns. With Robert A.M. Stern, he was co-author of The Anglo-American Suburb (London, AD / New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981 — a primary source book at the Seaside charrette) and New York 1900, Metropolitan Architecture & Urbanism 1890-1915 (New York, Rizzoli, 1983). With a grant from the Driehaus Foundation, he and Victor Dover are writing Street Design, The Art & Practice of Making Complete Streets (New York, Wiley, 2012).

He has taught at the Universities of Miami and Notre Dame, and was educated at Harvard College (A.B.) and the University of Pennsylvania (M.Arch.).

Selected Projects

Victoria Casasco Victoria Casasco

Victoria Casasco received her undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Masters of Architecture from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning. During her early career, Casasco worked with Duany Plater-Zyberk Architects on the Town of Seaside project. She served as Seaside Town Architect from 1987 to 1988 and is the only female Town Architect to date. She formed CASASCOstudio in 1987 and has done many acclaimed projects, in Seaside and elsewhere. For the last two decades Casasco has been a professor of architecture. She first taught at Southern California Institute of Architecture, but for the last decade has been serving as an Assistant Professor at Yale University. Her research and her projects have been widely published and have garnered her many awards for design excellence.

Selected Projects

  • Appell House, 1987–1989
  • Walton-DeFuniak Library, Project (Never Built), 1987
  • Bud and Alley’s Oyster Bar, Town Center, 1988

Scott Merrill Scott Merrill

Scott Merrill spent most of his formal education and early career along the northern half of the east coast. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, receiving a BA in 1979, and went on to graduate school at Yale University, where he received a Masters of Architecture in 1984. After completing his education he went to Washington D.C. and worked for residential firms McCartney Lewis, and Cass and Pinnell. It was while working for Cass and Pinnell that he was introduced to Andrés Duany, a meeting that would eventually take him to the Southern panhandle to work and to live.

In 1988, Scott Merrill was asked to be the sixth Town Architect of Seaside. He moved with his wife to Seaside, Florida in February of 1988 and remained as Town Architect until the summer of 1990. While there he worked on numerous projects in Seaside, many residential, for both Robert Davis, the founder of Seaside, and for private clients. The amount of work he was able to do while in Seaside is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the position for Merrill. He notes that in the Northeast there were a lot of people chasing a relatively small number of projects, but in being willing to go to a place that seemed like it was “at the edge of the world” he was working with far fewer people and doing many more projects. Coming to Seaside gave him the opportunity to design—and to build—houses along some of the most beautiful waterfront properties in the country, a far cry from what a young architect would have been working on in the already-established northeast. Merrill notes that this opportunity was one that he shared with many other young architects who were given the opportunity to build when they may not otherwise have had that chance.

Although the opportunity to build so much as a young architect was a great honor, it also came with challenges. One of the biggest challenges was trying to keep the houses modest. The early houses didn’t come near the limits of the buildable area of their lots, but as the lot prices went up, the houses tended to get larger and fancier as well. This was a detriment to the public spaces of Seaside, as it allowed the relationship of public to private to fall out of balance. The effort to maintain this balance for as long as possible was one of the more difficult aspects of being Seaside’s Town Architect.

Arriving in the late 80s, Merrill was not among the very first to begin his career in Seaside, but he has still witnessed much of its growth. Today, he is grateful to have been there for at least twenty-three of its thirty years. He feels that it would be impossible for someone coming today to imagine what it was like in the 80s; luckily he doesn’t have to imagine it. Whereas Seaside today comes with the benefits of improved schools and hospitals as well as easier access to food and other necessities; Seaside in the 80s was just a uniquely fun place to live and work. There were more people working in Seaside than living in it. His Seaside experience would not have been nearly as nice had he not had the opportunity to live and work there together. The higher cost of living there today would make that difficult, but that is the flip side to the better amenities.

After leaving his post as Town Archtiect, Merrill moved to Vero Beach, opening a practice to work on the new Duany Plater Zyberk master plan for the project of Windsor. He continues to work with DPZ today, a relationship which has brought Merrill many opportunities around the world. They have coordinated on projects in New Zealand, Russia, Edinburgh, the Caribbean and the UAW. While their work is architectural, it is done as a complement to the urban plans devised by DPZ. These projects—ranging from character studies to programming and capacity planning—add diversity to the already varied work of Merrill’s firm.

Merrill, along with his partners George Pastor and David Colgan, has also designed churches, town halls, mixed use buildings, rowhouses, apartments, university buildings, public gardens, club master plans, and several dozen private residences in urban sites, historic districts and in conservation districts throughout the eastern half of the United States. He and his firm have received three national AIA awards, including one in urban design for their first group of buildings and gardens. The firm has also been recognized for its design 14 times by the Florida AIA. Recently Merrill Pastor Colgan received the Arthur Ross Award by the Institute for Classical Architecture in New York, in recognition of a body of work that has contributed to traditional American design.

Selected Projects

Charles Warren Charles Warren

Charles Warren has been a practicing architect and an avid author for more than thirty years. His broad experience began with an education first at the California Institute of the Arts, then at Skidmore College and finally at Columbia University from which he received his Master’s Degree in Architecture in 1980. He worked as an Associate in the firm of Robert A.M. Stern for nearly a decade before moving on into his own firm, Charles Warren Architect, p.c., of which he is still the principal and lead designer today.

In 1987 Warren entered the academic arena once again when he won the Muschenheim Fellowship at the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning. While teaching design and architectural theory as an associate professor at the University of Michigan, he met Robert Davis, the founder of Seaside. Davis invited him to come to Seaside, and after leaving the University of Michigan Warren traveled down to Florida to become the seventh Town Architect of Seaside in 1990.

He remained as Seaside’s Town Architect until 1991. During that time he reviewed more than a hundred projects, some which were already underway and some which were just beginning. This was a time of great growth for Seaside, and the role of Town Architect as enforcer of the Urban Code was an important, but also a delicate, one. Warren found that working with other architects who were in turn working with the desires of their own clients made a challenging combination. Changes often had to be made and those suggestions and corrections had to be made and evaluated so that everyone ended up satisfied with the results in the end. This was that greatest challenge for Warren as town architect, but his own work in Seaside helped to balance that challenge with a sense of accomplishment. During his time as Town Architect, Warren was involved with the building of several utility buildings, shops along the beach, and a new swimming area. Although many of these places no longer exist today, they were an important part of Seaside during its explosive growing years. He also began work on three houses which would eventually be completed in Seaside.

After leaving his post in Seaside, Warren returned to his own firm in Manhattan. He stayed connected to Seaside however, doing the design for Natchez Park. Looking at Seaside today, he describes it as more interesting than later New Urbanist projects, saying that as an early exemplar of its kind of town it may be less perfect that later works, but its diversity of style and all of its many variations are precisely what make it so interesting. DPZ—and everyone who followed in their footsteps—learned from everything in Seaside; it is full of lessons, both good and bad, and anyone who wants to study urbanism today really must visit it, whether they like it or not.

Charles Warren considers the role of urbanist as a necessary addendum to that of architect and as such considers himself both. Looking at Seaside from the standpoint of urbanism, he considers it both a standout example and a part of a long standing tradition. He calls Seaside an early turning point in what has become a long path to the rediscovery of theories of town planning which were lost or abandoned in the mid 19th century. In this respect it is radically different, but in harkening back to these long lost ways of thinking it also falls in line with traditions in holiday town buildings, small town buildings, and even in some respects suburban planning in this country.

In addition to being a practicing architect, Charles Warren is an academic and an author. He has taught at the University of Michigan, at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and at the Institute for Classical Architecture and Classical America. He has written including a recent monograph on the work of Carrère & Hastings Architects and a book and several articles about urbanism. Today his firm works all along the East Coast, from New England down to Florida. They do both residential and commercial architecture, but specialize in buildings done in unique and challenging locations and situations: historic districts, planned communities and environmentally sensitive areas. Their work has been published in books and magazines in both the United States and in Europe.

Selected Projects

Richard Gibbs Richard Gibbs

In the span of his nearly forty-year career, Richard Gibbs has been an architect, an urbanist, and most recently a preservationist. He was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design, from which he received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1974. His early work, straight out of design school, was as an urbanist, but his direction changed when he came to Seaside in 1986 to build a home with his partner, Randy Harelson, in the New Urbanist community on the coast. In 1990 Robert Davis extended an offer for Gibbs to become the Town Architect of Seaside, a role which he would accept and remain in for six years, making him the longest-tenured of all Seaside Town Architects to date.

Gibbs came to Seaside at a time when building plans being submitted for review were in a lull. He spent most of his time working on his own private firm, R.M. Gibbs Design, which employed architect Ty Nunn, a future Town Architect of Seaside. During his time at Seaside he completed more than sixteen residential projects for the town. As the Town Architect he was also the enforcer of the Urban Code and often found the balance between the desires of his clients and the regulations of the Code to be a fulfilling challenge in his work. Among his many houses in Seaside is “Sea Forever,” a house right on the coast which Robert Davis later purchased to make his home.

His experience in Seaside turned him from an urbanist by education to a New Urbanist by experience, and when he left Seaside he took that experience to another New Urbanist town being developed nearby called Rosemary Beach. He served as Town Architect of Rosemary Beach for an additional seven years, reviewing hundreds of plans and designing several more public and private buildings. His work in New Urbanism was to last several more years as he went on to help create two more communities: Draper Lake Coastal Village in Florida and Brewster Point in Maine.

After fifteen years working in urban design, Gibbs moved to Louisiana to pursue yet another architectural interest, preservation. He currently lives in the LeJeune House, a two hundred year old plantation home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is working to preserve and restore the buildings and the grounds. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. His firm, R.M. Gibbs Design, today focuses on the “restoration of old homes and the design of new traditionally-styled buildings to fit seamlessly into historic sites and established neighborhoods.”

Selected Projects

Leo Casas Leo Casas

Braulio Casas served Seaside’s second-longest tenure as Town Architect; after being appointed by Robert Davis in February 2005 he served until February 1, 2009. He initially got to know Robert Davis, and Seaside, while involved with a master planning charette to guide the development of Seaside’s central square area. During that time Seaside was without a Town Architect, and the lack of an advisor to oversee building was beginning to affect the style and quality of the town, a fact which Casas felt was unacceptable. His goal coming into the office of Town Architect was to change the current attitude from one that was not focused enough on quality and style to one which would strongly emphasize quality in aesthetics and would encourage new builders to pursue traditional methods of building. His goal—and what he believes was his greatest accomplishment as Town Architect—was to create a greater sense of respect for classical and vernacular architecture within the context of Seaside’s Urban Code.

His goals were not achieved without great challenges, however. As the Town Architect of Seaside, Casas describes himself as the “lightning rod” at the center of all controversy. As the medium between the Town Founder, Robert Davis, and the inhabitants of Seaside, Casas found mediating the two realms to be particularly difficult. He describes the political component of being Town Architect to be the most challenging aspect of his lengthy tenure.

Although his tenure as Seaside’s Town Architect has expired, Braulio Casas has not strayed far. He still operates his own architectural practice out of Seaside, desigining civic, residential and commercial projects in the region. In 2010 he was awarded a Palladio Award for one of the homes he designed in the town of Seaside. A trained architect, he also describes himself as an urbanist, as he believes that “one cannot, indeed one ought not to practice architecture, without having a complete understanding and appreciation of the dialectic between architecture and urbanism.” He gives frequent talks about Seaside and the implications of its architecture and urbanism in both fields worldwide.

Although Casas has moved on from his role of Town Architect of Seaside, he recognizes that its story will continue indefinitely. Speaking about his thoughts on Seaside today, Casas said that it “will always be a work in progress… it will never really be complete and will depend greatly on the good stewardship by both its citizens and the Town Architects yet to come.”

Selected Projects

Ty Nunn Ty Nunn

Ty Nunn’s relationship with Seaside began before his career as a practicing architect. As a student at Auburn University in the late 1980s, Nunn was geographically close to Seaside during its earliest days. He was able to visit some of its most iconic structures, both under construction and newly completed. As a fourth year undergraduate, his interest in Seaside extended to the academic level; he traveled there to undertake an urban study of the new town.

In 1991, Nunn graduated from Auburn University with his Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture. The following year he moved to Seaside to work for Richard Gibbs, who was the Town Architect of Seaside at the time. He worked for Gibbs for a number of years before eventually beginning his own firm, florida haus, in 2001. He continued working on residential projects throughout Florida, and in May of 2009 he became Seaside’s tenth Town Architect, a role he still fills today.

As someone who has been actively watching Seaside for nearly twenty- five years, Nunn presents a unique perspective on Seaside’s past, present and future. As a student, Nunn says that Seaside was “all about the potential. There was enough there to see what the potential really was, and now, at least residentially, it is almost fully developed.” Today he looks back on Seaside and sees its evolution, starting from a very simple vernacular and evolving over time into very detailed and sophisticated homes with a still- growing town center. In the future, Nunn sees many of the structures built as temporary solutions many years ago gradually being replaced with permanent buildings.

Not only has the physical structure of the town evolved, but its demographic has as well. Seaside has a vocal, ensconced body of homeowners as well as a flourishing commercial town center. While some may see these two entities as being at odds with one another, Nunn feels that they are both integral to what makes Seaside such a unique place. He expects that even as it continues to develop and evolve Seaside will always remain a holiday town. However, as the geographic and emotional center of County Road 30-A, the energy that radiates through Seaside is, at least in part, due to the vibrancy of the public realm in its main plazas. This energy is an important part of its appeal to homeowners, guests, and tourists alike.

Over the past two years as Town Architect, Nunn has had the opportunity to oversee several projects in Seaside. One of his greatest honors during this time was working with Léon Krier to execute his plaza in Seaside. Currently, florida haus is also working on several renovations in Seaside, a by-product of the recent trend in Seaside of purchasing original cottages and renovating to bring them up to date or to tailor them to the individual needs of the new owners. His work in the vernacular of the Florida panhandle and its surrounding regions has also led him to work throughout the Southeast, including a new residence in New Orleans that he is currently designing in a vernacular New Orleans style.