Walter Chatham was a young New York City-based architect in 1976 and looking for a summer job when he was advised he should go to Miami and hang out with a friend of a friend by the name of Andres Duany.
"I was their single employee that summer," Chatham said.
Chatham worked that summer and the next for the firm, and after that, he stayed in contact.
When Seaside Founder Robert Davis tapped Duany and his firm to come to the Florida Panhandle to help him design and build a walkable town, Duany brought Chatham and other young architects and planners with him.
"I was one of the lucky ones, for better or worse," Chatham said. "The type of architecture and planning we encountered was not what we were being taught in school. What we encountered was much more intuitive than by the books. They taught me to operate intuitively. Robert had been thinking about doing this for a long time.
"It comes from European and Cuban backgrounds where there are squares and markets," he added. "Robert was interested in civic life, not real estate. I was on board immediately. I was one of their acolytes."
Chatham designed five houses in Seaside. He returns this weekend for the annual Seaside Prize weekend, and to accept the award, along with four others whose lives the experience shaped.
Now a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Chatham completed graduate studies at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. He is a six-time winner of the Distinguished Architecture Award from the American Institute of Architects, a fellow of the American Academy of Rome, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and a board member of the Architectural League of New York.
"A lot has changed," he said. "One thing Seaside proved is that everyone's building could look quite different, and that's a valuable lesson I learned coming up against rules. I got important commissions because of the experience."
Even though Chatham is New York based, the majority of his work has been tropical in nature.
"I loved Seaside and it influenced me," he said.
Chatham still collaborates at Seaside 40 years later.
"I do it because it's fun," he said.
Joining him in accepting the honors will be architects Robert Orr, Deborah Berke, Alexander Gorlin and Ernesto Buch.
Cuban-born Buch grew up in Miami where he was inspired by his environment and developed a passion for classical and traditional architecture and urbanism. He worked with Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk on the master plan and code for Seaside and specifically the Tupelo Street Pavilion.
Orr is a fellow of the Congress for the new Urbanism, was elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, is an American Institute of Architects Distinguished Architecture Award winner, and is a three-time award winner of the New England Chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Gorlin won the Rome Prize in Architecture from the American Academy in Rome, is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, and was named one of this century's top 100 architects by Architectural Digest. He designed five Seaside homes, including the iconic Stairway to Heaven in Ruskin Place.
Berke is the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, where she has been a professor since 1987. She won the Berkeley-Rupp award, is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, a Trustee and Vice President of the Urban Design Forum, a James Howell Foundation Board member, and serves on the Yaddo Board of Directors. She designed 14 iconic Seaside cottages and Modica Market.
Since 1986, The Seaside Institute has awarded the Seaside Prize each year to individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to how towns and cities promote walkability, diversity, beauty, and sustainability.
The 2018 recipients of the Seaside Prize will lead tours of the town during the Seaside Prize weekend Feb. 22-25, which will be a reunion of people who were part of Seaside's infancy. The events are open to the public.
For more information, visit www.seasideinstitute.org/new-events/.