When he talks about the concept of time, Andrés Duany, FAIA, takes on the enthusiastic manner of a star physics student. “Time is a fascinating fourth dimension that is so exciting to me,” he says. “The present is irrelevant—it's actually confusing.” As a planner, he explains, his role is to think about what a place will be like 10, 20, or even hundreds of years down the line. “Planning is all about the future,” he adds. “Time is an ingredient we have that architects don't.”
Duany and his wife and partner, Elizabeth (Lizz) Plater-Zyberk, FAIA, LEED AP, have been pondering the future for more than 30 years. Although they trained as architects (and still design buildings occasionally), they realized early on that the best way to affect the long-term built environment was to plan. So the Miami-based duo planned the Florida town of Seaside—still their most famous project—and then hundreds of neighborhoods, towns, and regions, all under the rubric of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ). And they and four colleagues co-founded the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), in whose pedestrian-friendly principles all of their planning is based. Through both avenues, the couple have altered the public's perception of what responsible planning and development can achieve. New towns, suburban retrofits, and even revitalized city neighborhoods—the very existence of these contemporary project types owes a massive debt to DPZ.
Long before they were New Urbanists, Duany and Plater-Zyberk sought out urbanity. Born to Cuban parents, Duany grew up in Barcelona, Spain, one of the world's great cities. Plater-Zyberk is the daughter of a Polish architect who immigrated in mid-career to Philadelphia's Main Line suburbs, a classic example of transit-oriented development. “We took the train to everything we did—to the dentist, the swim club, the Academy of Music,” she recalls. She and Duany met as undergraduates at Princeton University in the early 1970s and moved on to Yale University for architecture school, where they met one of their foremost mentors, the art historian Vincent Scully. After Yale, both briefly worked in major cities—Plater-Zyberk in Philadelphia for Venturi and Rauch (later Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates), and Duany in New York City for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.
They moved to the Miami area in 1975 and subsequently started the modernist firm Arquitectonica with another dynamic young couple, Laurinda Spear, FAIA, ASLA, and Bernardo Fort-Brescia, FAIA. Duany and Plater-Zyberk settled in Coral Gables, Fla., in a 1927 Cape Dutch-style home where they still live today. Culture shock set in, as they searched for the sense of urban connectedness they'd previously known. “We missed urbanism,” Duany recalls. A lecture given by another key mentor, the architect and planner Léon Krier, helped inspire them to leave Arquitectonica and start DPZ in 1980. One of their first planning projects was Seaside, for developer Robert Davis.
Duany and Plater-Zyberk designed the Gulf Coast resort town's master plan to evoke the physical character of places such as Charleston, S.C., and Key West, Fla. Its pedestrian-oriented street patterns, meticulous design codes, and mixed-use downtown were utterly unlike most post-World War II planned communities. “We knew nobody was doing traditional plans but thought we were just doing one place—not [making] a particular kind of statement,” Plater-Zyberk says. Yet Seaside's pastel cottages and townhouses—by architects as varied as Deborah Berke, FAIA, LEED AP; Samuel Mockbee; and Aldo Rossi—captured the public imagination. The project started a national conversation on urban design and laid the groundwork for the New Urbanism movement, which has since become popular with home buyers and developers looking for denser, more walkable alternatives to urban sprawl.
Seaside also catapulted DPZ onto a path that's continued to the present day. The firm soon won commissions to plan high-profile, neo-traditional towns such as Windsor in Vero Beach, Fla., and Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Md. Its success also benefited the architects designing individual buildings for DPZ communities and gave rise to more practitioners of neo-traditional town planning. Duany and Plater-Zyberk's role in forming the CNU in 1993 (along with Peter Calthorpe, AIA; Elizabeth Moule; Stefanos Polyzoides; and Daniel Solomon, FAIA) added to their increasing renown.
As they gathered acclaim and clients, Duany and Plater-Zyberk learned that the best way to work together was to divide up responsibilities. “The key thing is that we work on different projects,” says Duany, who is known for his outspoken, charismatic personality. “One or the other of us is in charge of a project. I make the coffee; she makes the toast. Otherwise, if you're two people and you're completely equal, there's no calling off the discussion.” These days, the elegant and diplomatic Plater-Zyberk leads only a few DPZ projects per year; her duties as dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture take up much of her time. Duany heads up many projects, as do firm partners Galina Tahchieva, LEED AP; Marina Khoury, LEED AP, of the Gaithersburg satellite office; and Tom Low, AIA, LEED AP, of the Charlotte, N.C., satellite office.
Additionally, DPZ now has three independent affiliates across the globe: DPZ Pacific, DPZ Europe, and DPZ Latin America. This setup lets the 34-person firm act like a bigger operation, amassing a team of architects, planners, and consultants anywhere on short notice. DPZ is known, in fact, for its openness to collaboration and for organizing large, intensive design charrettes. “We feel a charrette is the most efficient methodology for getting things done in a true-to-the-place way,” Tahchieva says.
The firm's international reach has helped it weather the global economic crisis, although like everyone else DPZ is feeling the downturn's effects. “We're saying yes to smaller projects we might have said no to before,” says senior project manager Xavier Iglesias. However, an impressive array of work remains in the pipeline. DPZ still designs new towns, but it also lends its energies to regional plans, urban revitalization and infill projects, and suburban retrofits. And the firm is devoting more and more time to writing form-based codes (rather than typical use-based codes) for municipalities all over the world—including its hometown, which in 2004 commissioned it to lead Miami 21, an ambitious overhaul of the city's zoning code.
DPZ also created the SmartCode, a free, modifiable development code first released in 2003 and downloadable online (www.smartcodecentral.org). SmartCode's availability is part of Duany and Plater-Zyberk's goal of fundamentally altering middle-class lifestyles. “The American middle class is the root cause of the environmental problems of the world,” Duany says. “How it consumes land, how it eats, how it transports itself. It affects everything.”
the long view
Over the years DPZ and New Urbanism have attracted not only flocks of followers, but also a fair amount of criticism. Many detractors dislike New Urbanists' frequent use of traditional architecture, and others feel the movement receives undue credit for fighting sprawl. Even opponents of New Urbanism admit that DPZ and like-minded firms have had a significant impact on urban design, though. “The combination of New Urbanism and transit-oriented development, and the return of Jane Jacobs' ideas, generated wider concern about mixed-use development,” says Robert A. Beauregard, head of the urban planning program at Columbia University.
“Overall, the influence is positive. I'm not a big fan of New Urbanism, but they're forcing people like me to say, What do we have on our side?”
DPZ's supporters are legion, and through them Duany and Plater-Zyberk exert enormous influence. “You'll find hundreds of people who owe a debt to Lizz and Andrés' generosity,” says former Seaside town architect Scott Merrill, AIA, principal of Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects in Vero Beach. Within DPZ, Khoury explains, “everybody has access to Lizz and Andrés. They're brilliant people, but they're also great teachers.” Many former firm employees or students of Duany's or Plater-Zyberk's at the University of Miami have gone on to start their own companies, oftentimes teaming with DPZ on projects.
Others have absorbed the couple's New Urbanist teachings through programs Plater-Zyberk started at the university, including the interdisciplinary Knight Program in Community Building. Through countless lectures and several books, she and Duany have managed to propel their message beyond the usual boundaries of planning and architecture, into the world at large. “They're both authentic visionaries,” says New York City-based Alexander Gorlin, FAIA, who has known them since the mid-1980s. Among their major achievements are Duany's leadership of the Mississippi Renewal Forum after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; Plater-Zyberk's 2008 appointment to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts; and their joint 2008 acceptance of the Richard H. Driehaus Prize from the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture.