Seaside Town Architect’s Survey

Scott Merrill

The following was transcribed from a phone interview.
When did you serve as Seaside Town Architect?

First of February in 1988 until June of 1990.

What initially drew you to Seaside?

I was working for Cass and Pinnell, a firm that in every sense traveled in the same circles as Liz and Andrés. Seaside at some time was in Architectural Record and was in the news in the mid-80s. I graduated from school in 1986 and was working for Pat and Heather.

What do you consider the most rewarding aspect of being Town Architect?

I came from the Northeast and it seemed to me that at the time there were a lot of people there who were chasing very little work. Interestingly, if you were willing to take a bit of a hit and go to a place that was at that time “at the edge of the world” there were far fewer people chasing a lot more work. If I had stayed in D.C., I would have ended up doing additions to houses in the D.C. area. It was interesting that by going to Seaside at that time, I was offered the chance to build, with even minimal experience, and was entrusted by Robert [Davis] with some of the most beautiful waterfront land in the country. Everyone who went there had the opportunity to build, whereas they may not have had that opportunity had they stayed where they were.

What were common challenges you found while working in Seaside?

One of the biggest challenges was trying to keep the houses modest. The early houses didn’t even press the limits of the building area. As lot prices went up the houses got larger and fancier at the same time. One consequence of this was that the relationship of the public buildings to the houses got out of balance, whereas if you had modest houses the relatively small public buildings held their own by their location and their language. AS the houses got more ambitious this tended to get out of balance.

How do you feel about Seaside today?

I was not by any means one of the earliest people there, since 1988, so 23 years. Now I feel fortunate to have been there even relatively early. I think it is hard to imagine now what was like in the 80s. I’m glad I don’t have to imagine it because I can remember it that way. There weren’t a lot of places to eat, but what was there was really fun. There were more people there building Seaside than living in it. Frankly, the school and hospitals have improved immensely, and you can much more readily imagine having a family there now. The flip side of this is that it continued to get more and more expensive. WE were very fortunate to get to live in three different houses right in Seaside; today that would be much more difficult for many people. The experience of building/working in Seaside I don’t think would have been nearly as nice had we not been living in Seaside

How does Seaside influence your thoughts on urbanism? How do you feel Seaside fits in with modern urban philosophy?

Seaside has continued to influence the way I work. There were so many things you had a chance to think about at Seaside, at a small and modest scale, that you still think about at a larger and more detailed scale and with the benefit of more work experience.

Can you give a brief summary of what you are doing today, including any recent projects, awards, or positions?

One thing that has been very gratifying to me in the last couple of years is that although we have been working with DPZ on and off for the last 20 years, we have done more than ever before in the last 2-3 years. We have done projects with them in New Zealand, Russia, Edinburgh, the Caribbean and the UAE. What we commonly do with DPZ: they will be the master planners and will have us come in and look at a single major building or a block, super-block or grouping of buildings. We will often do character studies, but we often also do programming plans or capacity planning: reasonably, what fits, with how much support, how much parking, basically elaborate programming or site capacity studies. This has been extremely gratifying work, usually on a scale that we are rarely afforded to work on.