The town of Seaside just concluded its biggest weekend of the year.
The annual Seaside Prize weekend is looked forward to by architects and planners from all over the country who converge on the tiny town to rub elbows with the best in the business, listen to their lectures, and honor their decades of trailblazing accomplishments.
New York architect Walter Chatham led the charge Friday morning with his lecture on building codes followed by a walking tour led by him and featuring the residences he designed.
Americans were the first to break the code of the Baroque-style architecture that had in Europe only been used for churches. In America, it was first used in Washington, D.C.
Such design details tend to come about in the planning stages, though, instead of in the architectural design stage, he said.
One quirk that was noted about 19th century buildings was that important buildings tended to have no windows.
"Thank god for Seaside," said Chatham.
In Seaside, the iconic Truman House is styled after a Roman church.
Chatham said the biggest error made in Seaside was constructing buildings in front of the Gateway building's arch.
"You were supposed to be able to look through the arch and out to the sea," he said.
As for parking, Seaside is reaching its capacity.
Chatham is not a fan of wheelchair accessible mats to the beach, preferring Seaside's original idea of a gangplank to beach from the Coleman obelisk pavilion. The gangplank was to have two inches left between the wooden planks and the sand so that nothing touched the sand.
Even though he did not design them, Chatham expressed admiration for Scott Merrill's Honeymoon Cottages, the Tupelo Gazebo where (Seaside founders Robert and Daryl Davis) married, and the image of the Seaside Chapel, which he called "moving."
"When the chapel was built, it brought the community together," he said. "And with Leon Krier's tower, it will be complete. Codes are not about laws. Forget codes and building types. Get together and build buildings that mean something."
His own education in this area did not begin until after he left architecture school.
"Schools don't do it anymore; there are no standards," he said.
On the walking tour, Chatham began in Ruskin Place.
When Ruskin Place's live/work townhomes were being built, Walton County had never seen a three-story house and builders were made to use commercial code.
Chatham led the large group to observe the Forsythe house, one of the first live/work townhomes constructed in Ruskin Place. The owners insisted on the residence including the first floor.
Across the park, he pointed out the building on the corner that houses Albert F's. Chatham built the townhome in the manner of a bridge house using mahogany, fun block squares, nautical symbols, and a galley kitchen on the top floor. The residence housed the first elevator in Seaside. He built the townhome for himself and his young family and thought he would own it forever. However, Chatham no longer owns the townhome and the new owners redid its interior and exterior.
"Repainting can destroy integrity," Chatham said with levity. "You have to be careful. I want people to think about why things look the way they do. Think about it before you change something."
He pointed out the park's open space, which he said lends a city feel instead of a beachy one.
Chatham then led the group to view his own unique former home on the town's eastern side he designed as pavilion living at the beach for his young family.
Chatham built the home with a living, cooking, and sleeping pavilion on the south side, and a free-standing master suite pavilion on its north side. Between the two pavilions, he constructed an open-air family pool. Both of the sleeping areas on either side open up to the pool, as does the living area, creating a unique live/play arrangement.
All dining was done around the pool as the home had no air conditioning. However, when he sold the home, the new owners enclosed the pool for privacy and to add air conditioning. The new owners also added a second-floor bunk room, tower, and indoor dining. Chatham said he was OK with all those changes.
Chatham currently serves as chair of codes in Hudson, New York.
Between 150 and 170 people attended the weekend events. The largest crowd was on Saturday to hear Robert Stern, the founder and a senior partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects and former dean and professor at the Yale School of Architecture.