The Secret Project

early September construction project photos (all by Eric Moser)

I can't give out all the details yet, but there's a project under construction now that will debut next month that finally does what we've hoped for since this day in January 2009, when the New Urban Guild came together to set out the principles of Project:SmartDwelling! Getting SmartDwellings built was one of the main reasons we founded studioSky, so I hope you understand why I'm giddy right now.

The project sits scarcely more than a stone's throw from the coast of the Caribbean Rim, and must therefore contend with the region's triple threat of heat, humidity, and hurricanes. The land began its life along the banks of seven parallel canals… "made land," in local parlance: parallel bars of sand pumped up a few years ago from the bottom of a coastal bay. The lots had all been laid out exactly the same size as far as the eye could see.

live/work unit at secret project

one of the live/work units where you can
live above the shop

We said "this won't do." We must have a transect from urban to rural, and we must help create walk appeal by building pedestrian cross-streets that pass over the canals along romantic arched bridges so you can get anywhere you want without the long trek back to the main street. On the rural end of each street, we might even let someone combine two lots to build a really big house, but at the urban end, we'll have several units on a single lot, and we'll have a mixed-use village center with shops you can live above.

Most developers don't have the stomach for building anything so un-ordinary, but the new Town Founder of this place is amazing in her commitment to getting stuff right. And we were just getting started. We decided that there would be no drywall anywhere on the job. Why would you want to have drywall by the sea side where it molds and mildews and eventually turns to mush? "Drywall" means "you have a wall only so long as you keep it dry." So we used the local sustainably-farmed tropical hardwoods instead… and they're far more beautiful than boring, featureless drywall as you can see.

hardwood louvered window

one of the hardwood
louvered windows

We designed the entire landscape around the buildings into a series of garden rooms. There is no lawn, except as a flooring material of a few of the rooms. The rooms are furnished, and designed to entice people outdoors where they become acclimated to the local environment so they can live in season, which means that when they return indoors, they can leave the louvered hardwood windows open and leave the air conditioner off because the houses breathe superbly.

And the indoors is unlike any you may have seen. Everywhere you look, everything is solid; there's no veneered anything. We've designed really cool tropical furniture that breathes as well. There are no closets; we use armoires instead of closets to store clothes. Our cabinets are built like furniture, with tropical hardwood sticks and boards instead of plywood that delaminates in the tropical humidity. We're even using pegs for fasteners in many places instead of nails because nails rust. And we're opening up all of the walls, boarding them on one side with tropical hardwood and leaving them open with shelves on the other side so that every wall becomes a shelving unit. All these things conspire to store a whole lot of stuff in a small amount of space, which is a hugely important principle in the design of SmartDwellings.

exposed ceiling structure

none of this gets covered up with some cheap veneer
instead, it's what you see when you look up

There's much more to come… I'll be going down in November for the photo shoot that precedes the opening, and promise to bring back lots of good images. What would you like to see? Please let me know, and I'll be sure to get some pics! And they're doing some other exceptionally cool things with the place that I can't wait to tell you about. And you'll be able to see for yourself, since the first couple dozen cottages to be built are all on the rental program, forming an "inn of cottages. So make plans to come down next year… I will, too.

~Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments

Steve Mouzon · Board Member at Sky Institute for the Future
This is all I can tell you about this place right now... for the first time, we're building true SmartDwellings! After five years of talk, you can start to see what we've been talking about. I'll be going there again next month for the photo shoot... what would you most like to see?
Oct 25, 2013 7:54am

Lawrence Thal · Architect/Developer at Mountainside Village
One advantage of building this way is that it appears that It would allow structures to easily be moved as a place matures & the site may become appropriate for larger buildings. It appears that the pier foundation system may be an adaptation for high water but it could also be useful when one may want to plan for a house to be able to easily move from site to site. In rapidly developing towns or as a means to tactically fill gaps to create a sense of place this could be an advantage & allow land leasing options to be viable for good townbuilding. Are there large footings under the piers?
Oct 25, 2013 6:11pm

Lawrence Thal · Architect/Developer at Mountainside Village
Beautiful framing!
This does not look like it is in a seismic zone but wind could still cause significant lateral loads. Are the minimal diameter piers engineered for that? I have been considering piers for early succession small structures to help keep costs down in our very different climate.
Oct 25, 2013 6:32pm

Laurence Qamar · Principal (school) at Laurence Qamar, Architecture & Town Planning
Bring it up one more floor and you would have a Father, Son, Holy Ghost house. Love the verticality...and the porch additions.
Oct 25, 2013 7:02pm

Catherine Hartley · Tampa, Florida
Wow! I love it!
Oct 26, 2013 1:39pm

Christian Arndt · Architect, Senior Project Manager at Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists
Congratulations Steve, Eric and everyone at NUG. So happy that you have realized your latest dream.
Oct 26, 2013 2:17pm

John Reagan · Partner at Reagan Purcell Architects
Oct 26, 2013 4:18pm

Mary Marz McGuigan · Kindergarten Teacher at Bay Elementary School
Any pix, details of Mahogany village?
Jan 7, 2014 6:33pm

Roger F. Wood Jr. · Town Architect at WestRock
Steve and Eric,
Very inspiring talk and pics of this at CNU last week. Are there additional pictures and perhaps some floor plans coming soon? And I believe that the starting prices for the houses are in the high 200s? is that right? And when can you reveal the location? Glad you are having fun with this project. It is inspiring.
Take care,
Roger Wood
Jun 11, 2014 10:11pm


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