Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: Fonville Press, Alys Beach, FL

Architect: Khoury & Vogt Architects, Alys Beach, FL; Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, AIA, principal in charge

General Contractor: Wave Construction, Rosemary Beach, FL

Developer: EBSCO Gulf Coast Development, Alys Beach, FL




New Design & Construction – less than 30,000 sq.ft.

Winner: Khoury & Vogt Architects

Full Court Press

By Lynne Lavelle

In 1993, a group of architects, planners, developers and educators with common ideas on neighborhood building and urban planning came together for the first annual Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). The goal was simple – to counter urban sprawl and decay, and to restore the vitality of the built environment through the preservation and development of diverse neighborhoods and districts. Since then, the CNU has grown to more than 3,100 members and today, there are more than 210 New Urbanist developments under construction or completed in the United States.

Among the regions that have been transformed by these initiatives is the Florida Panhandle. In recent years this narrow strip between Alabama and Georgia to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south has been the site of much New Urbanist development, most notably the resort towns of Seaside, Rosemary Beach, WaterColor and Alys Beach. The resulting publicity (Time magazine described Seaside as "the most astounding design achievement of its era and, one might hope, the most influential.") has elevated the so-called "Redneck Riviera" to a luxury property hub. And for owners, tourists and visitors alike, the towns are aesthetic triumphs.

Many proclaim Alys Beach in particular "heaven on earth," owing to its brilliant white buildings, stunning ocean views and 20-acre nature reserve. With a 2003 master plan by Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, the 158-acre development occupies the last beachfront property on the Panhandle along highway 30A, and is affectionately named after the matriarch of the town's founders, who purchased the land in 1978.

The town takes its design cues from the white sculptural stucco of Bermuda and the patio houses of Antigua, Guatemala. As at Seaside, WaterColor and Rosemary Beach (also planned by DPZ), the pedestrian and cyclist take precedence over the motorist – all streets lead to the waterfront, with wide avenues, private courtyards and plentiful gathering spaces. And in keeping with other New Urbanist tenets, the ethos of sustainability underpins the design of each building. The approach is traditional, rather than purely technological; masonry construction ensures durability and energy efficiency and most home sites are oriented to maximize passive solar heating and cooling from the sun and Gulf breezes.

Since 2003, Alys Beach has grown under the direction of its founder, Jason Comer, and of Town Architects Marieanne Khoury-Vogt and Erik Vogt, who closed up shop in Miami to take the job. Sustainability is integral to their design process. "For our generation of designers and builders, seamlessly combining aesthetics and environmental performance is not only important, it also hopefully enhances the beauty and character of our work," says Khoury-Vogt. "We don't think it has to be a compromise."

Much of the town was yet to be built in 2006 – less than 10% of its properties had been completed – so providing a place for prospective buyers, as well as locals, to gather throughout the day and into the evening was Khoury & Vogt Architects' (KVA) first task. "As it was going to be the first amenity for the town, we all felt it was very important to build it early on," says Khoury-Vogt. "And we felt it was a wonderful opportunity to design a little jewel that would draw people in."

From the outset, the firm was faced with two non-negotiable challenges – too little space and too little time. The building had to be as small as its function would allow, and crucially, it had to be built in just three months. "We saw its size as an advantage actually," says Khoury-Vogt. "It forced the program and the space to be designed as efficiently and tightly as possible. And as you see in wonderfully congested cities like Paris and New York, when a retail space is popular and heavily frequented, it can really add to one's experience of it." The result was Fonville Press - a café, international newsstand and bookshop by day and a wine and tapas bar by night. Its 650-sq.ft. interior is complemented and flanked by two adjoining courtyards, which total 1,343 sq.ft of exterior space. Due to its location on the corner of the main street and a residential avenue, it has two distinct elevations; one monumental and easily recognizable as a retail establishment, the other smaller and more domestic in scale.

Masonry poured solid with concrete forms the shell of Fonville Press, which has a 20-in. cavity wall all round. Primarily, this construction is required to resist hurricane-force winds, but the thickened walls allowed KVA to build recessed bookshelves, which line the interior walls from the floor to the 16-ft.-high ceiling. Doors and windows by Zeluck of Brooklyn, NY, are solid mahogany with impact-resistant and insulated glass, and are returned 12 in. into the wall. "We wanted the impression of heavy walls where the wall thickness reveals itself, such as at windows and door openings," says Khoury-Vogt. "But occupying the cavity walls on the interior allowed us to carve up the space where it was programmatically required. And on the exterior, particularly on the retail frontage along the main street, the returns are splayed to give the impression of a deep thickened recess, which gives a great shadow line."

The roof is constructed in a similarly durable fashion. Concrete roof tiles were adhered and screwed to the deck before white stucco – which forms the finish surface of the entire building – was applied. The stucco reflects the sun, reduces heat gain, allows the walls to breathe and reduces the need for repeated painting. Bamboo awnings and wood trellis over the windows and doors, as well as cross-ventilation in three directions, naturally cool the building.

Outside, the courtyards are designed to provide two distinct experiences. The eastern, or sunrise court, was inspired by French cafés. Here, coffee is served under pindo palms and a low wall provides seating for passersby. To the west, the sunset court has a more Mediterranean feel. It is a nine-square grid of piers enclosed by taller walls and is roofed by a trellis of wood purlins and bamboo cane to filter the Florida sun. Built-in benches occupy three perimeter sides, two tall fountains are built into the fourth side and freestanding tables occupy the center. Cross vines grow up the sides of the masonry piers, and it is hoped that they will develop into a hanging garden.

Together, the spaces form a daily narrative, from morning to evening. "We saw a wonderful opportunity to design spaces that can be experienced sequentially," says Khoury-Vogt. "You arrive, get your coffee and pastry, or wine and tapas, and depending on the time of day, go out to one of the courts. The outdoor space had to be developed in a way that matched or exceeded the experience of the interior. This complemented the overall vision of the community, which stresses a way of life that embraces what the Florida climate and natural environment has to offer."

Fonville Press opened for business, and on time, in July 2006. Khoury-Vogt gives credit for this achievement to the general contractor, Wave Construction, of Rosemary Beach, FL. "The strict limit on construction meant a day-to-day collaboration between architect and builder to ensure that quality was not sacrificed to speed. Ultimately, it was not, and the deadline was met, both achievements due to the heroic efforts of the builder and its trades."

Though it is the least visible, perhaps the most sustainable feature of Fonville Press is how warmly the community has welcomed it. "It is wonderfully lively," says Khoury-Vogt. "We've instituted "après-beach" evenings on Fridays and Saturdays, and we have live music, wine and tapas. Locals, as well as Alys Beach residents and tourists, have embraced it, which is most rewarding. Such places, history has proven, come to be protected and valued by the community in a way that truly defines sustainability in the built environment."  



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