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FROM SEASIDE TO HIGHLANDS

AGENDA

Andrés Duany, creator of Seaside - the Florida town as famous for pioneering New Urbanism as it is for its Disneyesque conformity - is now looking to Scotland. The AJ caught up with him in London.

The traditionalist is a fascinating psychological type in the contemporary intenational architecture scene.

It must be near-impossible to reconcile being a member of the conservative establishment in lay society with being very much an outsider in your own profession.

This dilemma all to often triggers resentment of the dominant mainstream Modernists, who refuse to see traditionalists as equals Andrés Duany - the architect behind Seaside in Florida who is about to design a huge New Urbanist settlement in the Scottish Highlands - is a classic example. He doesn't really try to disguise his frustration that the architectural world doesn't see things as he does.

What makes matters worse is that Duany used to be a Modernist. Indeed, he was educated by a liberal dose of Team 10-ers at Princeton. He even went through the process of climbing the ranks and becoming a partner of Florida practice Arquitectonica. And then... BANG! - he was won over by Leon Krier. This was no small matter for Duany - it was nothing short of a Road to Damascus conversion.

It all started when Duany saw Krier lecture in 1979. Two weeks later he was no longer a Modernist. He describes this 'journey of enlightenment' in a wonderfully American way; all emotion, all centring on himself.

God knows what his therapist makes of it... 'Leon was an incredible speaker when he was in his 30s, ' Duany says. 'I came away thinking it was like what Lenin must have been like.

'What's interesting is that the first emotion you feel when faced with it is anger and frustration. I was furious. Leon was challenging everything I believed in and I was very, very angry with him for doing it.

'Sometimes when I lecture now I make a young architect angry with me and, although they're clearly furious, I know I've made a connection with them. It's amazing.'

As a good convert, Duany proceeded immediately to become one of the founding fathers, along with Krier, of the Congress for a New Urbanism.

This organisation has, rather frighteningly, been described as 'the most important planning or architectural movement to come out of North America in the 20th century'.

With his wife, fellow architect Elizabeth PlaterZyberk, Duany also set up DPZ, an office that has become one of the world's leading 'New Urbanist' firms, with work on five continents. 'Our immediate decision in 1980 was to take Krier's ideas and give them a specifically American feel, ' he says.

The result was Seaside, which famously featured as the backdrop to Hollywood blockbuster The Truman Show.

DPZ and Duany's New Urbanist friends are currently on the rise in the States, largely because of their speedy move to fill the planning vacuum in New Orleans and Mississippi following the Hurricane Katrina disaster last year.

Duany describes this huge rebuild as 'the Superbowl of planning'. Nice soundbite.

Miami-based Duany has come to the UK not just to see the AJ and to deliver a lecture at the RIBA (last Tuesday), but because of the huge project which DPZ has agreed to masterplan for a vast site on the outskirts of Inverness. The project - Duany's first UK scheme - will deliver a new town of 5,000 homes south of Tornagrain, which will also include schools, shops, pubs and restaurants.

But, Duany says with conviction, this will be no Seaside in Scotland. 'Just as the architecture of Seaside in Florida fits exactly into the architecture of the place and the era, it would be ridiculous to build something like Seaside in the Highlands, ' he says.

Some 50 per cent of Duany's team would comprise local architects, planners and engineers. 'I myself cannot become an expert in this, ' he says. 'That is why we basically graft on to people who have lived here all their lives; they are the experts.'

But what will this new town look like? Will it be a pastiche of the Scottish vernacular? 'No, ' Duany answers firmly. 'Although strictly speaking I can't tell you yet because I need to speak to the people who are going to live there. My feeling is that it will be a mix of styles. There might be some traditional homes and there might be some Modern homes. We will give people a choice.

'It is important to remember though that Modernism is a form of nostalgia; nostalgia for the future. It is a pastiche of a revolution that never happened.'

One of the most fascinating things about Duany is this insistence that he hasn't rejected the Modern Movement outright. There are apparently Modern buildings in Seaside - 'It's just that you don't get to see them in films, ' he says.

There is one thing that Duany is entirely unequivocal about however. 'I f*cking hate Post-Modernism, ' he says.

Duany's persuasiveness is compelling, and I feel it is time to wrap the interview up before he turns me into a believer.

I think I escaped unscathed, but watch out - a Duany-style conversion could strike any of us at any time...

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