When architect Doug Farr, AIA, sat down to sketch residential designs for Alys Beach, a new resort town along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, he had all but the pencil taken out of his hand from the get-go. The town’s codes, covenants, and regulations practically dictated what he could draw: courtyard homes inspired by those in Bermuda and Guatemala on 40-foot-by-90-foot, east-west-oriented parcels that gave no clue to the energy and resource efficiencies required to meet the designation standards of the Florida Green Building Coalition and the “fortified home” specs of the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). “It took some tenacity to work through that,” says Farr, who runs his architectural firm out of Chicago.
The result, however, is a wonderful marriage of aesthetic execution and building performance. The one sketch of Farr’s that was actually built, a 2,400-square-foot attached home, showcases the architect’s creativity within those limitations, namely the use of insulated composite masonry walls and operable clerestory windows that effectively address natural light, passive solar and ventilation, and mold-resistance issues. In addition, a concealed (yet generous) rooftop photovoltaic array and geothermal heating and cooling system were critical to the home’s ability to live comfortably and be 71% more energy efficient than code minimum.
“I think we proved that you can have architectural quality and the green stuff under incredible constraints,” says Farr. The Chicago chapter of the AIA agreed, awarding the house its 2007 Design Excellence Award for Environmental Sustainability.
Awards and other accolades aside, Farr is most proud of providing a piece to the ongoing puzzle of creating workable, walkable neighborhoods. Conceived by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ), the masterminds of Seaside (Fla.) and nearly 300 other town plans worldwide, the 158-acre Alys Beach community turns back the clock to when density and diversity were politically and architecturally valued.
“DPZ has been very critical of well-intended environmentalists calling for more ‘open space’ in a new town plan,” says Farr. “That idea undercuts the basic tenets of a vibrant and sustainable neighborhood.”
Though Alys Beach boasts a 20-acre wildlife preserve, it’s located on the northern edge of town. Closer to its waterfront swath of white beach, the community’s main attraction, buildings are densely packed within a walkable street grid that facilitates cooling breezes and direct sight lines to the Gulf.