The Dream of Alys Beach
Posted on April 10, 2015
I arrived at the Raleigh Hotel late in the morning, mist rising off the dense tropical vegetation after a brief morning rain shower. The soft ocean breeze that cooled the lobby carried the distinctive clinking of cocktail glasses, already at this hour of the morning. Rather than going to my room, I moved directly to the back room where I knew the gathering of designers, planners and consultants were already at work- having what they called a “charrette”. Invited by a media consultant, I knew no one in the room, and was shown a desk in the far back corner where I would be out of the way. I quietly unpacked my instruments of the trade- a small drafting board, various pencils and pens, watercolors and an assortment of triangles, scales and templates.
I sat quietly as the short handsome dynamo of a man, Andreas Duany, pontificated on the virtues of a unique vision of a new seaside community; one that would be dense and walk-able; urban, but refreshing; relaxing, but interactive. As the renowned designer of Seaside, he claimed the dense seaside village would incorporate quiet courtyard gardens such as those found in Antigua, Guatemala; and would be an all-white aesthetic, resembling the simple beautiful architectural forms of Bermuda. My mind began to wander as I imagined the possibilities.
This first day, the meetings with the client, engineers, landscape architects, architects, planners, engineers and more engineers, went on and on as discussions and calculations tested theories. We finally broke late for dinner, but the nightlife of South Beach was all too available to accommodate a late night dinner party- and a party it was; the serious nature of the professionals vanished as cocktails and wine fueled stories of adventures and misadventures alike.
Returning to my bed well after midnight, I slept restlessly, my mind spinning with my task- to develop an architectural language that would exemplify the lofty vision Andres had lain before us. At 5:30 a.m., I finally gave up. I gathered my watercolors and found a beachside cabana, where I sat listening to the soft crashing waves as I sketched and scribbled.
I was well at work at my desk when others wandered in, blurry-eyed from the evening festivities. People settled in, and the true nature of a charrette was realized as work began in earnest to develop material for the afternoon presentation to be given to the Owner. Fueled by coffee, the room vibrated with energy. By afternoon the pace had slowed somewhat as some wandered to lunch, caught up with offices back home, or simply stared out to the topless German models luxuriating poolside outside our window. “Would an afternoon cocktail be inappropriate?”
Resisting the urge, work continued; it continued while engineers discussed sewage and traffic; it continued while the client and financial advisors debated cost points; and it continued while planners discussed the flow of streets and pedestrian paths. Finally, the architects were on. Known to be an expressive group, issues were raised and argued on style, massing and detail. What precedents would be most appropriate, and what will distinguish THIS place as THE place along the white sands and the cerulean blue sea?
After days of our intensive charrette, we were all spent- there was nothing more to give. We each packed our miniature offices and departed, one by one, until the room was an empty wasteland of crumpled paper, empty coffee cups and pencil nubs.
In the years since, I have long joined the table of DPZ charrette consultants sharing stories of adventures past in some of the most unique places of the world; places like, the Bahamas, Scotland, Spain, Germany, Costa Rica, Ecuador and even Mecca. I have now built half a dozen homes in Alys Beach, and have designed at least half a dozen more; unique and expressive homes; homes that have helped to create a beautiful white village by the Sea unlike any other.