The drive out to the luxury community of Windsor, Florida, feels like passing through worlds. Asphalt unfurls relentlessly across the state’s swampy underbelly, past RV towns, cattle ranches, deactivated power plants, and unending rows of orange trees with workers harvesting fruit in the midday sun. Birds of prey circle down on blistered fields and the smell of wood smoke hangs in the humid air, even as Smokey the Bear insists, sign after sign, that fire levels are at a minimum. Luxury rodeos and casino joints start cropping just east of Osceola County, where I’m greeted by the spectacular sight of Yeehaw Junction—a chaotic trucker spot just off the Florida Turnpike that looks exactly like it sounds. 18-wheelers piled high with citrus barrels cross the intersection, horns blaring, loose oranges falling akimbo. As the miles keep coming, Florida continues to oscillate between unfathomable affluence and destitute poverty. On the bridge to Orchid Island, the McMansions emerge all at once. Orchid, the town next to Windsor, boasts the ninth highest income in America; it’s also the only town I’ve ever knowingly been to that is 100 percent white. All 450 of its residents must have been somewhere else that day (perhaps their real homes), because it seems completely empty. Finally, the serif script sign announcing Windsor Club appears and I veer left into a grove of oak trees. I learn later that oak is a favorite motif of Hilary Weston, one half of the couple behind Windsor. The Westons’ Canadian empire dates back to the late 19th century, beginning with a bread factory that ballooned into an international food processing and distribution conglomerate; the couple now has a combined net worth in the billions. Just like Windsor’s host state, the Westons’ companies cover the whole socio-economic spectrum, ranging from luxury department store Selfridges to Primark, the U.K. equivalent of Walmart. Founded in 1989, Windsor intends to “combine yesterday’s charm with modern comforts and the vision of tomorrow.” Having encountered the land in its elemental state—mangrove bushes straddling the ocean and dirt paths through overgrown forests—the Westons wanted to develop the future community of Windsor in a way that honored the intrinsic purity of the landscape. They called upon Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founders of the New Urbanist movement, an urban planning ideology that stresses walkable, compact cities with a consistent architectural style. Later made (in)famous by the New Urbanist Floridian towns of Seaside and Celebration—the former starring in the The Truman Show (1999) and the latter, originally developed by Walt Disney in the 1990s, sustaining a series of grisly murders—New Urbanism developed a particular association in the Sunshine State with repressed resort towns where the darker truths of American culture fester underneath a cheery veneer. For all of Duany’s and Plater-Zyberk’s efforts at Windsor, the result is much the same. A meticulously maintained community that offers endless amenities to its guests—a shooting range, art gallery, tennis courts, equestrian trails, croquet, and beach club among them—it appears largely empty during my visit. As a result, Windsor seems to remain suspended somewhere between a false utopia and a luxury ghost town. A large white picket fence by British artist Michael Craig-Martin stands proud in the lawn between the oaks and the reception, seemingly winking to its context. Candy-colored umbrellas, stilettos, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow make their appearances around the club’s 500-acre expanse as part of Craig-Martin’s solo exhibition at The Gallery, Windsor’s in-house art space. The second installment of a three-year, three-show collaboration with the Royal Academy, it seems the initiative may have helped pique interest in Windsor—membership numbers are reaching an all-time high. Admission to the Cult of Windsor doesn’t come cheap: golf equity memberships are a cool $200,000, while social membership dues rack up at $14,858 annually—all of which is practically pocket change if you can afford the costs of building your own mansion. Homesites begin at $625,000 and go up to $4,200,000 for waterfront lots. Although residents are free to choose their own architects they must use Windsor’s builders to ensure total compliance with the Windsor Code: a strict handbook conceived by Duany and Plater-Zyberk that delineates the permitted architectural styles, from building thickness and height to approved pastels and the types of perennials you’re allowed to plant. New Urbanism spits venom at cars, which its acolytes blame for almost single-handedly ruining cities; Windsor follows suit with modified regulations, permitting the gratuitous use of golf carts (though during my visit, I see more range rovers than residents). First up on our golf cart tour is the Town Hall. Built in 1999 and designed by the Luxembourgish architect, New Urbanist convert, and devout defender of Nazi architecture, Léon Krier, it’s easily the wackiest building here. A classic PoMo case of proportion mash-up, its large triangular pediment embellished with small geometric cutouts. They run down its long side, where chunky columns are intermixed with fortress-like doors painted eggshell blue. With a dramatic pitched roof that soars high above its vanilla surrounds, the building exudes a mystical aura only brought back to its context by the Mercedes-Benz parked outside. The doors of the hall are flung open to reveal rows of empty seats; a row of more homely fold-out wooden chairs flanks the entrance, while a giant glitzy obelisk stands proudly at the altar. It’s unclear whether there will be any takers for today’s sermon. Next up is the Equestrian Centre, where I’m greeted by the forlorn faces of a dozen horses in Windsor’s 26-stable barn. In addition to storage and care for the horses while their seasonal owners are elsewhere, the Centre also offers a 170-yard-long multi-purpose stick and ball field and full-sized polo field for exhibition matches. Carrying on to the clubhouse, the scent of jasmine wafts up from the eight Stan Smith–designed Har-Tru™ tennis courts. I arrive to see two seniors shake hands at the net and migrate to the patio, Diet Cokes in hand; it’s startling to see real humans actually use the facilities at Windsor, and for a moment this scene breaks the overwhelming impression that Windsor is little more than an elaborate stage set, a pretty piggy bank in which international business moguls can store their cash. At the Clubhouse’s bar, a bowl of mixed nuts remains out for the ghost nibbler, while the TV blares for no one in particular. The Gallery is upstairs, where Michael Craig-Martin’s graphic 2D works hold their own in a relatively unremarkable space that feels shockingly squished, given the amount of real estate on offer. I head out to the second-floor balcony overlooking the 18-hole golf course—a sumptuous landscape known rather incredibly to members as “Windsor’s Serengeti.” I turn back to face the tinted glass doors of the gallery—Craig-Martin’s sunglass paintings coolly deflecting their context, but still sitting complicit in this parallel universe—and the true insanity of this place comes full circle. Our final stop is the Beach Club—another Anglo-Caribbean style structure built in 1994, it’s recently undergone a vibrant facelift courtesy of the local designer Rod Mickley. In the new Lodge, a dozen handymen are busy setting up for the night’s fundraising gala. Returning to the newly remodeled reception, it’s intensely-perfumed interiors prove overwhelming. Stumbling out into the Village Centre designed by Scott Merrill, I fall into its proverbial small town embrace: a Village Store, a real estate office, concierge, post office, gym, and a cafe where residents can catch up over a coffee or pick up fresh produce. Even though it’s totally deserted during my visit (save for one member on a treadmill), this is the closest Windsor gets to feeling like a community. Outside, the synthetic lawn, shell-infused concrete, and the Exedra—a semicircular amphitheater used for concerts that bears traces of Arcosanti’s bell workshop—bear traces of Windsor’s aspirational New Urbanist roots. Surrounded by a semicircle of spindly palms that rival L.A., it’s here I realize once and for all the movement is best relinquished to this elitist country club. “New Urbanism has not evolved so much since Windsor, but it has evolved towards Windsor,” Duany has since reflected on the project, as if confirming that the teachings of the movement are more aptly suited for a luxury resort rather than any real city. Crossing its virtually uninhabited expanse, one gets the sense Windsor’s days are numbered, threatened more by rising sea levels than credit defaults. Until then, it remains a peculiar relic of aspirational urban planning, bloated and malformed into a gross excess by all the investment capital stowed away in Florida—because where else would take it?
Posts tagged with "Andrés Duany":
With a theoretical site on Mahattan’s 57th Street—the so-called Billionaires’ Row—New York–based Mark Foster Gage Architects (MFGA) was recently asked, “What is the next generation of luxury?” The firm's answer? To bring “higher resolution” to those projects by working at a range of textural scales, and his proposed theoretical tower has been making waves in design conversation around the city. For instance, from far away, the building reads as a figure in the skyline, but up close, there is another level of detail that is not legible from far away. Even closer, the ornament has another level of “resolution” that makes it more visually interesting. Gage told AN that the idea comes from a Leon Krier drawing where a man is looking at a column, and then zooms in to see a capital, and then zooms in even further to see an egg-and-dart pattern. The same man then looks at a Modernist building, which looks like a grid. When he zooms in he sees another grid, and then zooms in again to see another grid. Gage wants to develop this concept for the 21st century, creating high- to super-high resolutions using a technique called “kitbashing,” or taking parts of readily available models and repurposing and reanimating them together as a new whole. Three-dimensional models from the internet become like new primitives for MFGA, where a new vocabulary emerges from a wealth of new shapes. “Architecture, and especially abstraction, has become about picking out products,” Gage told AN. “If a building is going to be 102 stories, it should give more to the city than just a facade product.” He cites Rockefeller Center as a building that has multiple readings, from its iconic profile to the narrative relief sculptures on its walls. The proposed tower on 57th Street does not have the overt political meaning that Rockefeller’s ornament does. Gage is adamant about not assigning symbolic meaning to his architecture. He would rather choose the figures for their formal qualities, and let people assign meaning. And people have certainly been assigning meaning. “The comments are hilarious,” said Gage. Critics’ comments include everything from speculation that Bruce Wayne bought the penthouse, to musings about a 21st century Gothic, to comparisons to a temple to the Norse god Odin. Others likened it to Gaudi and Michelangelo. A person going by the name Andres Duany on a University of Miami listserv had the quote of the day. “NO! Ornament must be handcrafted. We must and we will wrench the clock back two centuries!!! That will assure that is [sic] is good ornament. The good looking and durable is the guaranteed result of handcraft. The bad looking and soon-to-be-decrepit is the inevitable result of machine production. Plus returning to handcraft will employ oodles of workers in a satisfying way.” However, aesthetics are slippery slope. Everyone has different opinions. What matters here is that while the forms are extreme, they carry with them a significant set of ideas about ornament in our time, and the importance of resisting the simplification of architecture into a monotonous skyline of dull boxes. With a boom of residential construction producing a large percentage of high-profile architecture in New York and other cities, many of the most exciting projects are not experienced by the public as an actual building, but rather as an image, or a part of a landscape or skyline. In this regard, the contribution architects can make to the city remains mostly visual. Thus, aesthetic research remains important and timely.
Prominent planner and architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk has stepped down as dean of University of Miami’s (UM) architecture school after an 18-year-long tenure. Plater-Zyberk will continue to teach at UM, whose faculty she joined in 1979. During Plater-Zyberk’s term, UM’s architecture school became closely associated with traditional and Classical design and New Urbanism. The celebrated dean and her husband, planner and architect Andres Duany, are co-founders of Arquitectonica and planners of the pedestrian-friendly Seaside, a Florida panhandle town and setting of the movie Truman Show. Associate Dean Denis Hector will serve as acting dean. Under Plater-Zyberk’s guidance, UM’s fledgling architecture school achieved nationwide recognition as a unique center for classical design and community engagement. The architecture school was just over a decade old when Plater-Zyberk became dean in 1995, and since then she helped the university create “an identity that ran counter to all trends in architectural education at that time,” according to a UM statement. Before becoming dean, she guided UM’s efforts in preparing the 1992 reconstruction of South Miami-Dade County after Hurricane Andrew. She also lead the university in improving Greater Miami through its Center for Urban and Community Design and impressive projects such as a scheme for West Coconut Grove that resulted in the reconstruction of Grand Avenue as a tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly avenue. Plater-Zyberk will continue to leave her mark on the university by focusing her teaching on an up-and-coming aspect of practice: how cities and towns manage the rising seas and further consequences of climate change.
Postmodernism, the exuberant, eclectic, and ironic style born out of the death of the modernist dream in the 1960s and 70s, was the subject of the two-day-long "Reconsidering Postmodernism" conference last weekend, presented by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. The two marathon days of lectures, panels, and videos was filled with the original rock stars of the postmodernist world, including architects Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves, theorists Charles Jencks and Tom Wolfe, urbanists Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and a small but passionate younger crowd who couldn’t help but revel in the rambunctiousness of their vaunted forebearers. The beginning of postmodernism, an active topic at the conference, was assigned multiple dates. It was either with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe low-income houses in 1972, which Charles Jencks defines as “the day modernism died,” with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966, perhaps with the opening of Morris Lapidus’ first bodacious beach resort in 1949, or it even could have been at the beginnings of modernism itself, when hairline cracks in the modernist utopian vision had already begun to form. There were even Italian precedents: in the 1950s Torre Velasca, designed by Ernesto Rogers in Milan, and the Venice Architectural Biennale of 1980. Something about the conference compelled people’s interest in the big, chronically under-discussed themes of architecture. Andres Duany championed a broader classical canon, through his 175 (and counting…) orders of classicism. A discussion of stylistic evolution was continually present, causing architectural writer Witold Rybczynski to come to the conclusion at one point that taste is more important than style. “This is something we don’t discuss, but should” was a phrase uttered by many over both days. The conference showed that postmodernism is still controversial, but also that it is extremely alive today, proving to be a resilient and long lasting force in architecture. Reasons for this were debated. Barry Bergdoll, the Phillip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, asked if postmodernism was an attitude or a movement, suggesting the possible eternality of the mode, and that PoMo is not only analogous with the Mannerist or Hellenistic phases of architectural history, but actually the same thing. If modernism discarded everything that came before it, and began from “level zero,” as Gropius said it did, then postmodernism is letting everything flood back in, picking up where the world left off, and making a joke of it to lighten the mood. The “joke” of postmodernism was an important conference theme and recurred frequently. Humor mitigates the promotion of dogma, which was seen as a cause of modernism’s failure, and forces postmodernism to embrace its own flaws. Jokes also accept the world for what it is. As one conference-goer said, “The world isn’t as black and white as it used to be.” Humor was fantastically present over those two days. ICAA president Paul Gunther’s opening remarks on the morning of day one called postmodernism “A case of multiple personality disorders” before becoming a bit more serious and stating, correctly, that the purpose of the next two days was to “overcome the denial of postmodernism.” If not completely embraced by all in attendance, the conference at least succeeded in doing that. At the end of day two, with everything having been said, the final panel was oddly mellow and subdued. Perhaps nobody wanted to leave the reunion, or perhaps the gauntlet was being handed to the young people in the room, like Sam Jacob of the U.K. architecture firm F.A.T., architect and writer Jimmy Stamp, or any others of the wacky new generation of postmodernists.