Seaside has stood at the forefront in planning not only for its built environment but also for the spaces between and around the buildings and streets. The design of these open spaces and the principles they were based upon can largely be credited to one person: Douglas Duany. Douglas was the winner of the 2016 Seaside Prize.
Douglas, brother of Andres Duany, Seaside’s co-town planner along with wife Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, served as an unofficial landscape architect during Seaside’s early years in the 1980s. He advocated using indigenous plants whose natural requirements are appropriate to the local climate to avoid losing water to evaporation and run-off. This practice now known as xeriscaping was innovative at that time and caused the resisting of some houses in Seaside to preserve areas with significant groupings of shrubs and trees.
After a decade of designing private and public spaces, Douglas received his master's degree in landscape architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1990. Since then, he has worked on many pivotal architectural and urban projects all over the world. He has taught as a visiting professor of architecture at the University of Miami and the University of Florida and is presently a professor at Notre Dame.
Always involved in theoretical issues in the internal platforms provided by the Congress for the New Urbanism, Douglas received the first Chair of Urban Ecology given by the Princes’Foundation for the Built Environment in London. Douglas’s work has taken him outside of the country and into some less than comfortable situations over the years.
Peter Swift, principal of Swift & Associates, a town planning, civil and traffic engineering firm, recalls a period when he was working in Kurdistan, Iraq, where Douglas joined him in 2007 for almost a year. “I was the director of town planning and Douglas was chief of design,” said Swift. When they left the country, the two planners had built housing for 8,000 homeless and war widows and developed a mixed-use plan for the development in Erbil where they lived during that time.
Douglas also created the Kurdish Transect and worked on architectural typologies, northern Iraq urban typologies and helped Swift with preparing presentations for the Prime Minister’s advisors. In 2008, the Prince’s Foundation needed someone to go to a historic part of Kabul to rebuild houses, train the community in traditional building and crafts and create a local economy and culture.
“[Douglas] was the only one from my team who would go,” said Hank Dittmar who was director of the Prince’s Foundation at the time. “He went, put together a local team and produced a master plan document for the Turquoise Mountain Foundation. According to Dittmar, Douglas returned several times and was successful in protecting the neighborhood from a Mayor who wanted to build new highways and widen existing roads, which would have destroyed much of the neighborhood.
Former Seaside Prize winner Dhiru Thadani said that Douglas made many significant contributions over the years.First, in Seaside: “His awareness, promotion and suggestion to maintain native species as the primary vegetation at Seaside helped affirm the 'genius loci' of the place,” stated Thadani in an email. “Additionally,” he wrote, “his suggestion to transform the mapping of ecological characteristics to the natural/built environment is the underlying basis for rural-urban transect.” The rural-to-urban transect is the basis upon which the SmartCode, a model planning and zoning document that addresses all scales of planning, was written.
Mike Watkins, a current Seaside Institute board member cites his years of teaching and mentorship as a great reason for deserving the Prize. “Having served as a juror for Douglas numerous times at Notre Dame, I can say without reservation that he is loved by his students, and this is reflected in the exceptional work they produce,” said Watkins. “Training the next generation is essential and often unsung work,” he continued.