The New Urban Guild has sought for years to recognize and promote excellent urban and architectural design that supports our mission. We occasionally award honorary memberships and currently have one annual awards program, which is the Barranco Award.
Honorary membership is bestowed in those rare instances of individuals whose clarity of vision and articulation of that vision has had profound effects upon the work of all of us. These are the people whose work allowed us to “think different.” Without them, our work would have been less than what it is today. These are people who are generally older than us, and whose legacy is so firmly established that Guild membership would not benefit them, otherwise we would invite them to join our ranks as regular members. Currently, we have a single honorary member.
Without Leon Krier, the New Urbanism as we know it would never have existed. Without the New Urbanism, the Guild would never have existed, either. All of us would be doing different things today than we are now doing. There can be no more fitting character than Leon Krier to be the first honorary member of the New Urban Guild. We thank Mr. Krier profoundly for honoring the Guild with his acceptance of this membership.
It was Krier’s lecture in Miami in 1980 that completely changed the careers of Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. In Duany’s words, “I left the lecture furious at Krier. But over the next couple weeks, as I thought back over the things he said, I had to admit, one at a time, that 'Krier is right about that.” Then, ‘Krier is right about that, too.’ And ‘Krier is right about that as well.’ We were doing high-profile high-rise Modernism at the time, but Krier completely turned us around."
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 Barranco Award for Architecture is presented each year at the Congress for the New Urbanism to a person who exhibits:
• A mastery of traditional architecture of the highest quality with a commitment to strengthening the power of community by connecting people – physically, emotionally, and spiritually,
• An understanding of the role of Place in all its dimensions, including the dimensions of Climate and Culture, and how the individual is affected by the region, community, block, building, and space,
• A gift for building enduring relationships “Beyond Architecture”, inspiring passionate coalitions for transformative change in the lives of families and communities, and, further, unselfishly not caring who gets the credit.
These are the award-winners:
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.
I want to thank Nathan for being the first to choke up this evening, while presenting the Groves Award. This is a heartfelt kind of situation. For those of us who knew Michael Barranco and were there for the Katrina charrettes, this is a person who really made a mark on our lives, not just because we showed up and did work together, but because his character was such that it was like playing in a pro-am: You really upped your game when playing around Michael. Very genuine. No artifice. No phoniness. He was genuinely concerned about every person he ever met, and wanted everyone’s life to be better. He decided that architecture was his way to do that.
With his passing, there is a hole in the CNU, but the New Urban Guild offers the Barranco Award to practitioners who are that kind of stand-up guy. It’s about the character with which you comport yourself. It’s about how hungry you are to learn. It’s about how much you care about your community. It’s about how much you love and encourage your fellow-citizens. With that said, I’d like to introduce you to this year’s award-winner, Bruce Tolar, through some of his work. <begin slides>
The original Katrina Cottage which by itself was great, but Bruce took it out of the total chaos and mayhem and bad financial circumstances that were pretty much an everyday deal in Ocean Springs at that time, and all along the coast. And from nothing, he created the peaceful excellence of Cottage Square, where he put the pieces together into something amazing which that community cherishes. It has even become a tourist destination. Imagine that: an interim housing solution after a hurricane has become a tourist destination!
So Bruce pulled together all the Katrina Cottages that were built as prototypes for demonstration purposes and brought them to Cottage Square. And he made something out of the pieces, just as we all try to do, which is to aggregate a great place from small incremental parts. It is a modest place, with gravel sidewalks; a place where you can operate a tiny business out of those tiny buildings. And the community that has formed there has become a real anchor to Ocean Springs. From there, Bruce launched an expansion, which was an incredibly ambitious project in a place governed by FEMA… <cough> <laughs and applause> … a terrible environment to work under, but he is doing amazing, excellent work with modest little pieces.
He reached out to nonprofits in the area; he connects with so many people; he’s been in that town forever, serving on many boards; and the idea that there was something to be done after a hurricane, and fixing civilization in general, was a natural thing for Bruce. The people love this neighborhood. The nonprofits he’s been working with have been tremendously empowered by seeing one guy’s ability to put people together and make things work. Bruce is the best design caulking gun you can imagine, pulling everything together on modest means and making things happen. So with that, I’d like to present this year’s Barranco Award to Bruce Tolar.
~R. John Anderson
<The following was a later news release on Bruce’s award>
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.
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.
Thanks so much to Bruce Tolar, Mike Thompson, and the other members of the Barranco Award selection committee for their dedication to this award. I’ll speak a bit about Michael, then Andrew’s colleague Mark Moreno will have some words about Andrew and accept the award on his behalf.
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.
Andrew extends his sincere thanks to the New Urban guild and especially to the Barranco Family for this distinguished award.
In 1996, when I came to Andrews University, which is a Seventh Day Adventist Institution, Andrew von Maur was at the top of his class, one of the most talented groups of students with which I’ve ever worked. Two years later, for our accreditation visit, the work of this class as fifth year students under Philip Bess’s direction, again with Andrew leading, most clearly illuminated for the architecture faculty in 1998 that the urban design and new urban vision Philip had introduced just a few years prior had established solid roots.
To reinterpret Winston Churchill’s claim about buildings, I’d like to offer that, we shape our students, and in turn they shape us. This is especially true with Andrew von Maur. With Philip’s lead, the school’s architecture faculty crafted a meaningful, tightly knit curriculum increasingly reinforcing urban design principles in each of its five years. While sad and worried when Philip left to direct the graduate studies at Notre Dame, I am proud to say that Andrew von Maur stepped in and successfully furthered the vision Philip and early CNU members had founded. Andrew has since led his urban design classes to an unprecedented five Charter Awards and continued to shape the school in positive ways.
As a colleague since 2003, Andrew has served with distinction. His work within the architecture school, with the New Urbanism, with the New Urban Guild is held in high regard by his colleagues, is inspirational and highly influential with our students, some of which (I’m happy to say) are here at this conference. His ability to network and to further the goals of New Urbanism and to further the goals of his students is phenomenal. He continues to influence and shape me in profound ways and on top of it all, he is a delightful and charismatic person.
From Europe, Andrew wants me to underscore for you the fact that his work with the school, the students and especially the Adventist faith-based mission of our program enables him to pursue the work and relationships recognized by the Barranco Award. He did not know Michael, but shared admiration for his life’s accomplishments and gratitude for the collegial, collaborative spirit and generous support of all those Guild members with whom he has worked and studied. He has learned much from them and looks forward to many more opportunities for good and useful work with the Guild. And he says, I quote “They are the best.”
So it is with great privilege that I accept this award on Andrew’s behalf.
<Note: This award presentation was held at an off-site venue, which allowed for more conversation than normally occurs during the awards presentation. Since then, the awards have been presented at the Congress, so presentations are shorter.>
This award that we are here tonight to present tonight to Steve Mouzon is awarded in memory of our fellow-architect Michael Barranco. This award is a celebration of Michael’s life; we all still sorely miss him. Mike Thompson, who worked with Michael, will present the award.
The New Urban Guild is delighted to present the 2012 Barranco Award to Steve Mouzon. Steve has shown a mastery of traditional architecture at the highest levels of quality with a commitment to strengthening the power of community by connecting people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He has an understanding of the role of place in all its dimensions including the dimensions of climate and culture, and how the individual is affected by the region, the community, the block, the building, and the detail. And he has a gift of building enduring relationships beyond architecture, inspiring passionate coalitions for transformative change in the lives of families and communities, and further, unselfishly not caring who gets the credit. I want to read something that Michael wrote about the phrase “beyond architecture” that was quite the motto in our office. It was always our goal to touch people beyond just this realm of architecture: “Though none of us are perfect, let this vision assist us individually and collectively in striving for a common goal. This is one of excellence, passion, and service that in the end allows us and our families to prosper physically, financially, and spiritually, that we all may do the will of God, which after all is our primary and greatest purpose. While this vision has been condensed, it is important to note that it reminds us that there is a great mission and duty that, if upheld, will only enhance our craft, and ultimately provide for an experience beyond architecture, and for our business relationships. Steve, it is my pleasure to present you with this certificate.
We are blessed with the presence of Jene Barranco, with her children… Michael’s children… to be here in person to present the award to Steve.
Everyone says it’s such a shame that people have to pass away to be noticed and to be lifted up for what they’ve done and the difference they have made in lives in the community. This would make Michael so happy, but not because the award is praising him. Michael’s love language was words of affirmation, and it was because it was his desire to make people happy. His goal was for his architecture to bring happiness; his hope was for people to be able to walk into a place that would bring them pleasure, and help them see beauty. And so I know this award would make him very well pleased because it is well-deserved by you, and it is something that brought everyone’s attention together for a better purpose that is bigger than just what we do to make a living. I started a blog about a week after the accident, and I was reading something I had written for the funeral that was read there. It was called “My Michael,” and it was meant to introduce everyone to the Michael that only we knew; you only saw a part… a watered-down Michael that didn’t have the concentration that he saved just for us. Part of what I wrote was “he paid attention to detail in all parts of his life, and it wasn’t just architecture. It was the details of parenting, the details of being a husband, the details of being a spiritual leader, the details of beauty, the details of how we dressed, the kind of glasses we drank out of… everything. Our garden was all about details. He took so many pictures of details. His camera was full of cornices of buildings, and bricks, and stones, and light fixtures, from everywhere that we would travel. I think that’s why he loved the New Urbanism so much, because it’s about all the details that come together to make such great places. It’s not just about the buildings, but about how it all falls together, and the details that it takes, and the planning, to make it a great place; and I know you understand that, and appreciate that. I very proudly present this award to you, Steve, and I’m thankful that we were able to be here.
Never before in my experience has someone who meant so much been taken so soon after I met them than Michael Barranco. One thing I know that we shared is that both of us both of us take great pleasure in encouraging others, and giving honor to others. I know that Michael would have found it as difficult as I do now to take an honor yourself. As a matter of fact, I thought about fighting this for a long time. My thought was “don’t do this, my friends. Don’t do this.” But then it occurred to me that if Michael were able to speak audibly to us right now, knowing how great a pleasure he got from honoring others, he would take pleasure in this, I would think. And I know there are those here tonight who can speak audibly, and who feel the same way. And so if I were to refuse this, I would be depriving you all of pleasure. And so I decided to go ahead and do this. But the one thing I wanted to mention about this group, the New Urban Guild, is this: For two hundred years, the prime virtues of business were quality, speed, and economy, or better-faster-cheaper, if you will. This occurred throughout what I call the Era of the Company, when the company was central to our economic lives. I believe we are now entering a time I like to call the Age of the Idea, and even the virtues are changing to patience, generosity, and connectedness. Patience is the opposite of speed. Generosity is the opposite of economy. Connectedness is a bit strange, but it has relevance to the Guild. The way quality used to work was that you got published and well-known, and therefore connected to a lot of people as a result of the quality of your work. Unfortunately, that approach often leads to arrogance because it’s easy to say “all of these good things are happening to me because I am so good.” It was always my hope since the first moment that Nathan first laid out the idea of the New Urban Guild that in gathering us all together that each of us would become better than we ever would have been on our own. And so that connectedness has led to quality in everyone’s work that I’ve seen over the years. What happens when you go from connectedness to quality, rather than quality to connectedness, is that you realize that “I’m better today because of you, and because of you, and because of you…” as you go around the room, you see all these people that you’re better as a result of having worked with them. And that leads to humility because you realize your higher quality today is a result of your connections to them. That has always been the first dream of the Guild… that we would build better places as a result of our connectedness. I hope we carry that forward from now on.
I cannot think of a better awardee. I want you to know that this award was unanimous. Hands-down unanimous. Every single Guild member voted for you. I am one of your biggest fans. Thank you so much for all that you do. Always.
~ Julia Sanford
I met Michael early on, and that fellow had a dramatic influence on my life in the early days, a really wonderful, positive effort at that Guild charrette many years ago. His passion and selflessness there was really amazing. I kept in touch with Michael since then, but then that awful event of nature, Hurricane Katrina, occurred in 2005, and it was then that we really saw the kind of man that Michael was, through what he did, and how he impacted countless lives. It was a passion and selflessness we rarely see. I think of it often, and always will. There was no question in my mind that you personify that, Steve. Thank God for you both; that’s all I can say, because you make me better. ~Eric Moser
Steve’s a little nervous right now because he knows that I’m his number one fan, if you’ve seen the movie The Incredibles, you know that the number one fan all of a sudden change…. and it could be a bad thing. I’m in the New Urban Guild, but as you know, I can’t draw. I couldn’t even draw a stick man. Years ago, I became very frustrated with the fact that all these people I respected greatly did not come together and do as you described in your acceptance comments. I see this evening as a celebration, and the interesting this is that both you and Michael were people I could count on to get things done. You just got it done. So often, as we know, designers like to talk about a lot of things, but Michael was the epitome of not just talking about things, but taking the lead and doing them. And you have that in spades as well with all that you do to promote the advancement of the practice and the art of place-making. I’m happy that you got this award, and that this is going to be a recurring award, because it does celebrate Michael’s contribution, which was so significant to all of us.
Never before in my experience has someone who meant so much been taken so soon after I met them than Michael Barranco. Michael exemplified civic duty like few architects alive today. Michael was a wonderful example of the collegiality once held so dear by the profession of architecture until it was take away nearly a century ago by the necessity of uniqueness, and he gave me hope that we could one day be that good again. Michael was the first member of the New Urban Guild that we have ever lost, and we want to honor his legacy. The Transect Codes Council has instituted the Groves Award for planning; the Guild is now inaugurating the Barranco Award for architecture. Michael is the first recipient, posthumously. There will be one recipient hereafter, awarded each year at CNU.
<Note: Because this was the first year of the Barranco Award, CNU allotted us 60 seconds to present it, hence the brevity of the comments. Since that time, they have allowed longer presentations. The text below is what I posted about Michael shortly after his passing.>
The Legacy of Michael Barranco
Actually, the title’s a bit misleading, because this post is only about the parts of Michael Barranco’s legacy which I’ve observed personally. 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 now call the “Heartbeat 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 Heartbeat!!! 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 Heartbeat 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, across the country and beyond 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 four children.
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 Heartbeat of Living Traditions? 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.