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