Seaside Institute Builds New Academic Village

Stay 'Classy' Seaside

Mari Darr~Welch
The Seaside Institute’s Academic Village is the newest “smart” addition to the New Urbanism town of Seaside.

Once again, Seaside is first in class. After years in the making, the Seaside Institute, a nonprofit organization in Seaside that serves as a laboratory and educational center for community planning, design and development, has finalized construction of its academic village. As a gathering place for urban designers, artists, visiting scholars, faculty and students, the village provides comfortable and modest housing during their stay.

The institute offers courses, seminars and workshops primarily in the areas of the arts, architecture, new urbanism, and health and well-being. The buildings that make up the village are mostly renovated cottages that housed victims of Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, keeping in step with the new urban movement for which Seaside is known. “Recycling older buildings, elevating shacks, airstreams and humble houses to positions of civic dignity has been part of Seaside’s genius loci — its distinctive spirit and sense of place — since the early 1980s,” says Seaside’s founder, Robert Davis.

Mari Darr~Welch
Robert Davis, co-founder of Seaside speaks to a recent class in the Academic Village.

The village is located in the lyceum, an area in Seaside devoted to education and other civic activities and originally the heart of Seaside, according to Davis. The Seaside lyceum previously housed the Seaside Neighborhood School and offices for various nonprofit organizations. Davis, along with his wife and Seaside co-founder, Daryl Davis, had planned for the addition of the academic village as part of the educational component of Seaside since 1998. As the town grew and prospered beyond the founders’ wildest dreams, property values have soared (Seaside has some of the highest real estate values in the country). It had become a challenge to fulfill the goals of the institute due to high rental costs and lack of a central gathering place for students. The hope was that by building an academic village on-site in Seaside, the work of the institute would be more readily available to students and professionals year-round.

Mari Darr~Welch
The communal dining area of the Seaside Institute’s Academic Village with the cottages and classroom building in the background.

Several attempts had been made to jumpstart plans for this phase of the lyceum, but getting the financing was a challenge. Earlier designs for the academic village included plans for a performing arts center, student housing and hotel-like suites. Now with a more modest focus, the village primarily offers temporary housing in its seven cottages for students while they pursue their education. The village can house up to 20 students at a time in the 500-square-foot cottages. The interiors have varied layouts to house one student or a group of four in two bedrooms with a shared bathroom. Furnishings emphasize learning as opposed to lounging but are comfortable and pleasant. The cottages have Parson-leg desks and chairs, comfortable beds with upholstered headboards and three-drawer dressers. White paneled walls set off the wire-brushed oak floors and brushed nickel hardware. Front porches for relaxing between courses serve both an aesthetic and functional dimension to village living. “It is geared to a wide range of people, from high school, college and graduate level students to senior adults,” says Seaside Institute director Diane Dorney. “And course offerings are open to both boarders and day students, while allowing participants to enjoy a collegial living environment where discussions can continue after class is officially over.” An adjacent two-story building houses a gallery and meeting space on the first floor and the institute office on the second.

Mari Darr~Welch
The Academic Village (above) includes fully furnished cottages priced affordably to host up to 20 visiting students, faculty and scholars.

Architect Dhiru Thadani, author of “Visions of Seaside: Foundation, Evolution, Imagination, Built & Unbuilt Architecture,” had a hand in the design of the village layout and designed the interior layout of the cottages, including the challenging retrofit of the cottage for the disabled. 

Thadani included custom-designed lighting fixtures mounted on fence posts along Smolian Circle to mark the edge of the academic village. The fixture-toppers were made in Bombay, India, and were hand-carried back to Seaside by Dhiru after a trip he made there. The brushed stainless steel light fixtures designed for the village were inspired by the austere classical forms depicted in the sketches of Aldo Rossi, who was awarded the Seaside Prize, an honor given to those who contribute to the quality and character of Seaside. 

The village design includes a light box system to illuminate the courtyard trees. The lights are constructed of wood and translucent acrylic and are designed to wash the ground plane with light, uplight the tree trunks and minimize any nighttime light pollution.

The institute held an international urbanism symposium earlier in the year, featuring urban design leaders from around the world. Writing workshops include one-day seminars, school outreach programs and social events. Other courses include the fields of photography, house design, plein air painting and drawing. 

Students from the University of Maryland spent two weeks in Seaside surveying and drawing all of the existing buildings as part of learning how the principles and forms of traditional urbanism have been used to plan a town. Architecture majors from the University of Notre Dame studied Seaside using new technology that involves printing 3D models of buildings. The goal is to replicate Seaside’s central square and aid planners in redevelopment efforts. Nearly a dozen Georgia Tech students studied Seaside’s architecture and urban design, and measured and sketched public spaces and streets for other new urban communities. 

Tuition costs vary, and students are not required to stay in the academic village while taking courses. If they choose to, the daily rates range from $69 for a shared cottage to $149 for the classic cottage with a queen size bed, private bathroom, kitchen and living room.

Upcoming Classes to be held in the Seaside Institute’s Academic Village

Oct. 9–11

John Defresne, author
Creative Fiction Writing Workshop

Oct. 22–24

Steven Brooke, photographer
Architectural Photography & Composition Workshop

For more information, email

Categories: Education