I can't give out all the details yet, but there's a project under construction now that will debut next month that finally does what we've hoped for since this day in January 2009, when the New Urban Guild came together to set out the principles of Project:SmartDwelling! Getting SmartDwellings built was one of the main reasons we founded studioSky, so I hope you understand why I'm giddy right now.
The project sits scarcely more than a stone's throw from the coast of the Caribbean Rim, and must therefore contend with the region's triple threat of heat, humidity, and hurricanes. The land began its life along the banks of seven parallel canals… "made land," in local parlance: parallel bars of sand pumped up a few years ago from the bottom of a coastal bay. The lots had all been laid out exactly the same size as far as the eye could see.
We said "this won't do." We must have a transect from urban to rural, and we must help create walk appeal by building pedestrian cross-streets that pass over the canals along romantic arched bridges so you can get anywhere you want without the long trek back to the main street. On the rural end of each street, we might even let someone combine two lots to build a really big house, but at the urban end, we'll have several units on a single lot, and we'll have a mixed-use village center with shops you can live above.
Most developers don't have the stomach for building anything so un-ordinary, but the new Town Founder of this place is amazing in her commitment to getting stuff right. And we were just getting started. We decided that there would be no drywall anywhere on the job. Why would you want to have drywall by the sea side where it molds and mildews and eventually turns to mush? "Drywall" means "you have a wall only so long as you keep it dry." So we used the local sustainably-farmed tropical hardwoods instead… and they're far more beautiful than boring, featureless drywall as you can see.
We designed the entire landscape around the buildings into a series of garden rooms. There is no lawn, except as a flooring material of a few of the rooms. The rooms are furnished, and designed to entice people outdoors where they become acclimated to the local environment so they can live in season, which means that when they return indoors, they can leave the louvered hardwood windows open and leave the air conditioner off because the houses breathe superbly.
And the indoors is unlike any you may have seen. Everywhere you look, everything is solid; there's no veneered anything. We've designed really cool tropical furniture that breathes as well. There are no closets; we use armoires instead of closets to store clothes. Our cabinets are built like furniture, with tropical hardwood sticks and boards instead of plywood that delaminates in the tropical humidity. We're even using pegs for fasteners in many places instead of nails because nails rust. And we're opening up all of the walls, boarding them on one side with tropical hardwood and leaving them open with shelves on the other side so that every wall becomes a shelving unit. All these things conspire to store a whole lot of stuff in a small amount of space, which is a hugely important principle in the design of SmartDwellings.
There's much more to come… I'll be going down in November for the photo shoot that precedes the opening, and promise to bring back lots of good images. What would you like to see? Please let me know, and I'll be sure to get some pics! And they're doing some other exceptionally cool things with the place that I can't wait to tell you about. And you'll be able to see for yourself, since the first couple dozen cottages to be built are all on the rental program, forming an "inn of cottages. So make plans to come down next year… I will, too.
There's a chicken-and-egg problem with chickens and eggs: Retail consultants usually tell you which retail fuctions your neighborhood will support. And unless their numbers are hopeful, neighborhood founders are discouraged from building anything other than houses… so you don't have a real neighborhood; just a subdivision. But you can look at it the other way as well. Instead of saying "what shops will my neighborhood support" why not build a business and ask "where am I going to find the customers to support my business?
That's exactly what they did at Schooner Bay, and it's working out great. Schooner Bay is a new town in the Bahamas designed by DPZ. I was there from the beginning, at the design charrette when Schooner Bay was first planned. Eric, Julia, and I have been on several charrettes to design the architecture of Schooner Bay, and Julia designed most of the houses now being completed on the island in the center of the harbour. But this story isn't about architecture; it's about food.
Orjan Lindroth, Schooner Bay's Town Founder, set out from the beginning to make Schooner Bay a nourishable place. He secured dozens of acres of crown land adjacent to Schooner Bay. Crown land is owned by the Queen of England, but available for agricultural lease. He then teamed up with organic agriculture experts to create Lightbourn Farm. I blogged recently not only about Lightbourne, but how Schooner Bay is becoming an authentic fishing village as well.
Had Orjan done the normal thing and asked "how big of a farm will my town support" there's no way he would have started the farm because there are only a couple dozen homes complete at this point. Instead, he asked "where do I sell all this fresh produce?" And so Lightbourn Farm isn't just feeding Schooner Bay; it's feeding many other people in South Abaco. This, in my opinion, is the way to make things work in a town's early years: don't worry so much about the rooftops. Worry about the customers. And the businesses you generate will be great assets in building the neighborhood.