Michael Barranco was a near and dear friend to a lot of us here; he’s probably the reason that I’m here. He lived by the words: “beyond architecture.” By that, he meant that we change more than sites, more than buildings, and more than more than the spaces within them. We also have the opportunity to change lives, families, and communities if we’re willing to take on the mantle of civic duty with the combination of passion and humility. We’ve always looked at potential nominees each year in light of those words, and a lot of soul-searching goes into the selection of that particular individual.
When we took nominations and held the vote, it wasn’t close. As a matter of fact, someone emailed me privately and said “we should have made this selection years ago.” The winner is someone who I can characterize, both her as a person and also her work, with one word: mystique. Normally, if you characterize an architect’s work that way, it gives them license to do anything because how can you question mystique? But when they’re able to combine the quality of mystique with grace, curiosity, humility, and love, then you actually sometimes find, as you do in this case, a person who has become that rarest breed of architect: one whose work can not only enchant you like something wonderful and exotic you have never experienced before, but also welcome you as dear friend you’ve known since childhood. I think of her as a sort of Rosetta Stone; able to translate between architectural realms that are impossibly different, as she does work equally as elegant, from the Modernist to the traditional. These abilities are only rarely found embodied in one person. It is my great honor to present this year’s Barranco Award to Julie Sanford.
The New Urbanism is a movement filled with heroes, but few stand taller either in heroism or in physical stature than Bruce Tolar. Most of us first became acquainted with Bruce at the Mississippi Renewal Forum, just six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. That event began with a phone call from Michael Barranco, who wanted to assure that the Mississippi coast was rebuilt according to New Urbanist patterns. Over a hundred New Urbanists joined with dozens of local architects and planners in the smashed wreckage of a Biloxi casino in what was arguably the largest planning event in human history, with a total design team of nearly 200. For many, it was the start of months or even years of pro bono work in hopes of fulfilling Michael's vision.
Those weeks and months after the Forum were filled with heady days, when we all felt that we could actually help change the region, turning the curse of Katrina into a blessing. And our architect on the ground just a few miles from Ground Zero was Bruce Tolar. The first built Katrina Cottage made its debut at the International Builders' Show in Orlando the next January, and it stole the show. Later that year, it won the People's Choice Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award program.
But as days and weeks turned to months and years, it became clear that the most basic human response to tragedy is to try to put things back the way they were as quickly as possible, not to try some lofty new design concepts. At one point a couple years after the storm, it was clear that the only initiative left standing from Michael's original vision was the one focusing on Katrina Cottages. But even the cottages were in peril, as the Herculean efforts of Bruce and several others to convert the manufactured and modular housing industries were foundering. In the gathering storm leading to the Great Recession, it was a bridge too far.
In this bleak time with hopes of achieving any of Michael's vision fading and the economy collapsing around what appeared to be our years of wasted efforts, Bruce Tolar stepped into the gap. He bet everything he owned, his reputation, and likely his very survival on a little place known as Cottage Square in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. He took on the mantles of developer, builder, and architect, first assembling the historic original cottages, then building other Katrina Cottage designs that had first been built elsewhere. When FEMA pulled out the Mississippi Cottages, Bruce acquired several of those as well, dressing them up to complete the first square. The first Barranco Award was presented posthumously to Michael Barranco in the summer of 2011 at Cottage Square, with Bruce and Michael's family present.
In the years since, Cottage Square has flourished, adding a new square to the east filled with fascinating new Katrina Cottage types. Today, dozens of people live there and numerous businesses operate there as well... a true American village, the way we used to build them. And there is no question that this tiny place is incubating the wisdom of how to build emergency housing with dignity, for the day we will surely need that wisdom again.
It is a great honor to be able to present the 2015 Barranco Award for Architecture to Bruce Tolar. It is hard to imagine anyone more worthy of this award.
R. John Anderson, the 2014 recipient of the New Urban Guild’s Barranco Award for Architecture, is in many ways an icon of New Urbanism. The movement began when a ragtag band of architects and other colleagues stormed the walls of a planning profession that had refused to draw plans since the Urban Renewal disasters of the 1960s. So the New Urbanists picked up their pencils and drew, even if they weren’t officially qualified to do so. John embodies that spirit as much as anyone I know. He is officially a builder, but if you travel with him, you quickly discover that he spends every available moment in the field with his sketchbook, and draws beautifully. He is the consummate generalist.
And like those first New Urbanists, John is quick to step up to the plate. I remember the Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina when an email invitation intended for a local architect named John Anderson inadvertently was sent to him instead. He packed his bags and left California, headed for the devastated Gulf Coast, only to be informed by Andrés Duany upon his arrival that he hadn’t actually been invited. He responded “well, I’m here, and I’m staying. Do you want me to watch or work?” He worked, of course, including with Michael Barranco, whose memory this award honors. John designed some of the first Katrina Cottages at that charrette. Most of us got our starts in the New Urbanism this exact same way: showing up without an invitation, and getting to work.
All is not yet right with the built environment, and the New Urbanists are quick to point that out. But unlike some of our colleagues in other interest areas like environmentalism, it’s less likely to be with fuzzy moralizing and finger-wagging, and more likely with piercing insights seasoned with regular dashes of good humor. John is as good at this as anyone in the business. If you don’t know him, you should meet him, get him going, and just sit and listen for a fascinating hour or two.
The New Urbanists blend theory and practice as well as anyone. And John turns those seasoned skills of incisiveness with good humor squarely on the boots-on-the-ground issues of getting stuff built in America today. The clarity with which he explains the issues faced by present-day designers and builders is as sharp as you’ll find from any New Urbanist. Get to know John. Then join us in hoping that there will be more like him.
~ Steve Mouzon
The New Urban Guild and friends will be well-represented at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Buffalo June 4-7. The Congress focuses on the Resilient Community, with the Lake Belt as a backdrop.
• Andrés Duany, long a friend and patron of the Guild, will be everywhere, as usual… especially in the Lean Room, which is dedicated to the activities of the Lean Initiative. Several Guild members work with this initiative, and the Guild’s Project:SmartDwelling is an excellent pattern for lean buildings.
• Bill Dennis will be instructing three Art Room sessions, and will be participating in the New Urbanism & China initiative lunch.
• Chris Ritter will be doing two Art Room sessions as well.
• Eric Moser also has an Art Room session.
• John Massengale can be found in four places: Challenge of the Street Design Manuals, the Street Design Plenary, an Art Room session on the Civic Art of Street Design, and the NextGen Street Design Book Run.
• Julia Sanford will be presenting SmartDwellings in the 202 session on Atypical Building Types.
• Kenny Craft is one of the presenters in the Next American Urbanism session.
• Marina Khoury is doing two sessions: a 202 session on SmartCode Calibration and A New Hope for Better Planning.
• Michael Mehaffy will be at the Sprawl Retrofit Initiative Lunch, and will be participating in sessions on Retrofitting Zombie Subdivisions and New Urbanism as an International Movement.
• Mike Watkins is the organizer of and is presenting in the 202 session on Atypical Building Types.
• Robert Orr is one of the presenters in the Atypical Building Types session, and is doing the session Scale Down & Design For People, With People.
• Steve Mouzon is yet another presenter in the 202 session on Atypical Building Types… it’s becoming obvious this will be a Guild-heavy event. He is also doing an Art Room session.
• Susan Henderson is doing two events: a 202 session on SmartCode Calibration and another session Assessing Buffalo’s New Form-Based Code.
• Tom Low is doing a Rainwater & Green Infrastructure Best Practice session, and one on Light Imprint Mixopoly.
I just presented the New Urban Guild’s Barranco Award for Architecture at the CNU21 morning plenary. These were my comments on Michael, followed by colleague Mark Moreno’s comments on Andrew von Maur, this year’s recipient:
Thanks so much to Bruce Tolar, Mike Thompson, and the other members of the Barranco Award selection committee for their dedication to this award.
Michael Barranco was a Renaissance man; an architect, artist, musician, and civic leader. But Michael’s life and work also had a much broader impact, even though he never would have told you so himself.
I first met Michael in Jackson, Mississippi, at DPZ’s planning charrette for Lost Rabbit, a new town in Mississippi. Michael, serving as Town Architect, asked me to plan a subsequent architectural charrette for Lost Rabbit. That charrette, in July 2004, would be the second ever held by the New Urban Guild, after Alys Beach that January.
Michael was the linchpin of an extraordinary decision made on the first morning of the charrette that led to the rediscovery three days later of the “heartbeat of living traditions,” which is these four words: We do this because…
Katrina came just over a year later. Michael called just after the storm and said “Steve, we’re assembling a Governor’s Commission, and we’d like for you to speak to them about rebuilding Mississippi according New Urbanist principles” I said “that’s a job far too big for me; let me talk to Andrés.” The next morning I went to DPZ and after discussing it, he said “that’s a job too big for me, too,” and so he picked up the phone and called John Norquist. And the rest we all know.
Through the years that followed, Michael worked quietly at the highest levels to advance the right ideals of rebuilding. Without him, we were just a bunch of outsiders, but with him, we were far more effective. If you really pressed him, he would simply say that he was doing what any civic-minded person would do. But he’s responsible for so much more than that.
The Katrina Cottages initiative sprang out of the recovery work. Katrina Cottages would likely never have existed without Michael. So this one man, humbly doing what he considered to be his civic duty, has seen the influences of that duty ripple outward far beyond what he ever would have imagined.
That civic duty ended on a tragic night just south of Memphis. The first tragic death ever recorded was that of Abel. Roughly 4,000 years later, it was said of him that “he, being dead, is yet speaking.” In like manner, we cannot yet fully know the legacy of Michael Barranco, as it is still growing.
This year’s recipient of the New Urban Guild’s Barranco Award for Architecture is Andrew von Maur. I don’t know if Michael and Andrew ever met, but I do know that they were men of like talents, like service, like heart, and like faith. Andrew is an enormously talented architect, planner, illustrator, and educator at Andrews University. Today, he is traveling with his students somewhere in Europe. His colleague, Mark Moreno, is here to accept the award for him.
INTBAU, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism, jointly hosted a symposium in London April 30 with the University of Notre Dame examining Architecture in the Age of Austerity on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the organization’s founding. New Urban Guild founder Steve Mouzon was honored to be the symposium’s closing speaker, presenting the Original Green view on the symposium’s main topic in a presentation reproduced in its entirety beginning at this post.
INTBAU’s patron is His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and he hosted all of the symposium’s speakers for lunch at St. James's Palace the next day. Several New Urban Guild members were among the honored guests, including Michael Mehaffy (pictured above), Anne Fairfax, Richard Sammons, and Steve Mouzon.
Michael was a Renaissance man; an architect, artist, musician, and civic leader. The more than two and a half thousand people who packed the Performing Arts Center at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi on Saturday for the celebration of Michael's life attested to how much he meant to so many in his community. But Michael's life and work also had a much broader impact, even though he never would have told you so himself.
I first met Michael in Jackson, Mississippi, at DPZ's planning charrette for Lost Rabbit, a new town on the Ross Barnett reservoir near Madison, Mississippi. Mark Frascogna and Richard Ridgeway, the Town Founders of Lost Rabbit, had selected Michael to be the Town Architect. We had a lot to talk about from the very beginning, because I'd served as Town Architect in a number of new towns and neighborhoods for several years. I could go on for hours about the character, intensity, and basic decency of this man, but then, many others share those characteristics. Let's look instead at the events spawned as a result of those characteristics.
Several months after the planning charrette, Michael started talking to me about an architectural charrette to develop home designs for Lost Rabbit. This is highly unusual, because most first-time Town Architects without a long-running history in the New Urbanism tend to use their position to secure as much work as possible for themselves. Michael, on the other hand, was doing the right (but highly unusual) thing of bringing in some of the best New Urbanist architects he could find. We selected Eric Moser, Julie Sanford, Lou Oliver, and Milton Grenfell from the ranks of the New Urban Guild and set the charrette for July, 2004. It would be the second official New Urban Guild charrette, after the one at Alys Beach that January.
Michael was a major part of an extraordinary decision made on the first morning of the charrette to focus on a best architecture of the region. Previously, most developments picked a random handful of historical styles for their architectural "collection." This decision, made jointly but with Michael's urging, transformed so many things about the way we have worked in the years since. But that was only the beginning of transformations. A much bigger one was a couple days away.
The charrette proceeded with palpable excitement over this different way of doing architecture; and the shadows of new insights hung strong in the air. Michael and Jene hosted dinner the night before the charrette ended; it was an evening of new bonds and new ideas. The final day came and went, as did the celebratory dinner. Later, as we stood in the parlor of our B&B, the Millsaps-Buie house, came the most transformative moment of my career. We were still trying to get our minds wrapped around all the new implications of this way of working. I had been searching for years for what I called the "Transmission Device of Living Traditions," not sure quite what it was, but clear on the fact that it allowed ordinary people, for most of history, to build extraordinary places better than what the best planners and architects could do now. Late that evening, someone was describing an architectural element's function as "We do this because..." And then it hit me: "We do this because..." That's it!! That's the Transmission Device!!! If you put ever pattern of a language of architecture into these terms, then you open up the rationale of the patterns and allow architecture to live again! It isn't just some random collection of historical styles... it's what we do and why we do it! Had Michael not advocated so strongly on that first morning for taking this approach, for reasons none of us understood at the moment, the Transmission Device might not have been rediscovered that last night. And so many things might have remained locked up to us, even unto this day.
Just over a year later, the Gulf Coast was irreparably and violently changed by Hurricane Katrina. I had been on the road for several days before and after the storm, and returned to Miami both physically and emotionally exhausted on September 2. My wife and business partner Wanda met me at the office door. She said "I've been on the phone with Michael Barranco; it's urgent. You need to call him tonight." I was exhausted and wanted to call him on Monday. Surely he'd be out of the office by this hour.
But Wanda persisted, and so I called. Michael was still there. He said "Steve, we're assembling a Governor's Commission, and we'd like to have you come and speak to them very soon about how to rebuild Mississippi according to the principles of the New Urbanism..." We talked for a good while longer about the particulars, and about the storm. Michael was still running his office by candlelight, as Jackson had taken a big hit from the storm, too, even though it is well over 100 miles inland.
I realized immediately that the job was too big for me. The rebuilding of the entire Gulf Coast deserved the very best, and deserved more than just a speech. I called Andrés Duany and arranged to come back in the morning to discuss this new development. Andrés, revered by many as the world's greatest rock star of planning, said "this is too big for me, too... let's call in the entire Congress for the New Urbanism." And so we did. And with this began a series of events that changed forever both the Gulf Coast and the New Urbanism.
Through the years that followed, Michael worked quietly at the highest levels to advance the right ideals of rebuilding. Without him, we were just a bunch of outsiders, but with him, we were far more effective. If you really pressed him, he would simply say that he was doing what any civic-minded person would do. But he's responsible for so much more than that. The Mississippi Renewal Forum was the largest planning event in human history, with nearly 200 planners working side-by-side in one cavernous room to re-plan the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It never would have happened without Michael. The Katrina Cottages initiative sprang out of the recovery work. Katrina Cottages would likely never have existed without Michael. So many careers, including my own, have been unalterably changed by the awful necessity of trying to stand up and do something to help those devastated states recover... and that first big move in Mississippi that opened so many doors thereafter would never have been possible without Michael. Even today, the New Urbanists are the most trusted people in recoveries in other places such as Haiti... and that all began with Michael. So this one man, humbly doing what he considered to be his civic duty, has seen the influences of that duty ripple outward far beyond what he ever would have imagined, around the country and across the seas.
That civic duty now has ended. One week ago tonight, Michael died in a car crash in northern Mississippi returning from a meeting with clients. Michael was 48; he was married to Jene almost 24 years; they have three children of their own, and are foster parents to a fourth child. Michael is also the first member of the New Urban Guild that we have lost.
But though his duty has ended, his legacy has only begun. We who knew him well mourn his loss deeply, but there is so much that will live on. How might we recover differently from future disasters, both at home and abroad, because of what Michael started? How might the Katrina Cottages become a part of the solution of affordable housing? And of multi-generational homesteads? And of working from home? How will architecture change, now that we understand the Transmission Device? Will we again see living traditions in architecture as a result? It may take a lifetime to discover answers to these and other questions about the legacy of Michael Barranco.
Leon Krier, whose thinking has had a profound influence upon the New Urbanism since the very beginning, has accepted an honorary membership in the New Urban Guild! The honor, in reality, is all ours. It was Krier’s lecture in Miami in 1980 that completely changed the careers of Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Without Krier, Duany and Plater-Zyberk likely would have still been designing high-rise condos, and the nearly 300 towns and neighborhoods they designed would not exist. One wonders whether, without Krier, the New Urbanism as a movement would even exist?
Krier’s work wasn’t defined by a single virtuoso lecture thirty years ago... not by a long shot. His writings have had, and continue to have, a profound effect on two generations of architects and planners... and counting. His most recent book, The Architecture of Community, is an essential resource for anyone hoping to contribute to sustainable place-making.
This work continues a long track record of unusually idea-rich books such as Architecture: Choice or Fate and several others. You can’t just flip through a Krier book in a couple hours... there’s so much content there that you could spend weeks digesting it all.
The brilliance, however, is that this wealth of ideas can be easily digested in small bits. Those bits are built around Krier’s highly-provocative cartoon drawings. Never in the architectural world have so many ideas been skewered so thoroughly with so little ink.
And when Krier sets about to advance a great idea rather than rebuke the regrettable ones, he’s equally incisive here as well, articulating principles with such clarity that they are likely never to be forgotten.
The New Urban Guild has, since the beginning, placed high value upon great ideas. At the same time, the Guild has been an eminently practical organization, focused on ideas that work as opposed to the purely theoretical. It’s no mystery, therefore, why we have always held Leon Krier in such high regard: he is a consummate man of ideas, but he puts them forward in such a way that they effect real change in the way we build our places and our buildings. Welcome aboard, Mr. Krier!
The New Urban Guild will be presenting a number of ideas at CNU 18 in Atlanta May 20-22 in conjunction with the Open Source Congress. Follow #NUGatCNU on Twitter for times and subjects of the sessions. One issue certain to be dealt with is the imbalance of urbanism and architecture in CNU discussions. Architecture is the primary building-block of urbanism, yet some insist that the specifics of the architecture are inconsequential to urbanism. This goes all the way back to those four words in the Charter that “...this issue transcends style,” which has been taken ever since by some to advocate that the specifics of the architecture don’t matter.
But is this really true? The emergence of sustainability over the past several years as a front-burner issue to many Americans opens a train of thought that casts this assumption into question. New Urbanists have long advocated for sustainable places, and that’s clearly an important part of the equation. But sustainable places with unsustainable buildings aren’t any better than sustainable buildings in unsustainable places. The Original Green, an initiative of the Guild Foundation, has from the beginning advocated that sustainable places and sustainable buildings are equally important. And truly sustainable buildings participate heavily in their own conditioning instead of counting on the machines to do all the work... so the specific character of the building actually does matter.
In the interest of this, the New Urban Guild will continue to explore ways that architecture can do its part in the interest of sustainability... including working to open a few eyes within the ranks of our friends and colleagues within the Congress for the New Urbanism. #NUGatCNU.
In what is likely the best showing to date, New Urban Guild architects received a number of national design awards so far this year. Here’s the rundown:
• Historical Concepts, which is headed by Guild member Jim Strickland, took home the 2010 Arthur Ross Award for architecture. This award is given on a body of work; only one is given each year in each discipline.
• Khoury & Vogt Architects, composed of Guild members (and husband-and-wife team) Marieanne Khoury-Vogt and Erik Vogt, won the 2010 Palladio Award for Parks, Plazas, Gardens, and Streetscapes for their Lake Marilyn, Somerset Bridge and Seagarden at Alys Beach, Florida.
• Braulio Casas Architects, P.A., directed by Guild member Braulio Casas, took the 2010 Palladio Award for Residential New Design & Construction - Less Than 5,000 SF for a new residence in Seaside, Florida.
Congratulations to all these winners!