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Though a Texas boy at heart, Michael Imber has always had a global vision. “When I graduated from Texas Tech, I wanted to get a holistic view of U.S. architecture, so I went to the east coast where it all started,” he says. While his first mentor in Connecticut, Allan Shope, honed Imber’s architectural skills, it was Allan Greenberg who helped to create his style and vision. Greenberg, a classicist, broke the mold of the postmodern manner of the 1980s, which appealed to Imber’s own classic interests. “To work in architecture is a continuum. It’s something that slows through history and is always evolving. That was a great lesson I took through working with Allan [Greenberg],” he notes.
Given this attitude toward architectural fluidity, the Alys Beach project in Florida seemed like an organic fit for Imber. The beach community is part resort, part small town and was created upon the concept of “New Urbanism,” where houses are shaped to the urban environment. While this idea is more evocative of Antigua and Guatemala, the buildings in Alys Beach, all completely whitewashed, are reminiscent of the tropical architecture in Bermuda and allowed the use of unique archetypes.
The charette behind Alys Beach, of which Imber was a part of, brought their experience, which spanned the globe from the Caribbean to Scotland, to the Florida project. Still, Alys Beach is distinctly unique in its own right. The challenge in creating the beachfront community was taking a “tropical typology and adapting it to Florida with more of this Bermuda aesthetic that worked in the coastal environment,” says Imber. He describes their work as one of a “sand vernacular of architectural tradition.”
In a post-Katrina and post-Sandy environment, the concept of a hurricane community is evermore relevant, especially to the Florida coast. The architecture at Alys Beach, therefore, is not only uniquely beautiful, but the masonry is solid and built to withstand an increasingly harsh and unpredictable environment. In this way, the charette was able to “create an aesthetic of a hurricane community” with homes that were built “sustainably,” and “meant to last for generations, and not just a few storms.”
Consideration of the natural surroundings was not new to Imber. The architecture at Alys Beach and his work in Texas are “both very responsive to the climate,” he notes. Both areas value outdoor living, and Imber’s experience working with very solid masses and forms in Texas was essential to the masonry of a hurricane community in Florida.
One difference however is privacy. At Alys Beach, homes are close to the street, which is in stark contrast to Texas’ rolling, open landscape. Therefore, the architects had to be extra mindful of how to create privacy in the close-knit beach community. The solution? The houses’ archetypes were “flipped upside down.” The living areas were situated on the second floor: a layout that created views as well as a sense of seclusion.
Functionality aside, Imber’s work, at Alys Beach especially, embodies a distinctive soul. Architecture as a whole, and his work are “a reflection of who we are,” an idea that parallels his view of architecture as a continuum.
He explains: “Architecture doesn’t speak to here and now as fashion does. It is one of the arts that can stand for centuries. It reflects who we were and who we’re going to be. More than any other art, it is a true reflection of people and culture and soul of who we are.”
-Written by Molly Hess
For more information about Alys Beach, click here