Built to Last at Alys Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast

General / People / Places / February 26, 2010

Alys Beach is built for the long term.

It’s made of hurricane-proof, sustainable materials that last, like concrete, steel and plaster.

It marries a vision from Bermuda with the typology of Antigua and Guatemala. Its walls and rooftops are white, not just to resemble their counterparts in Bermuda, but to reflect the sunlight too. Its streets are oriented to the water, to catch the Gulf breezes. And it eschews front porches in favor of Antigua-inspired courtyards that engender a sense of community – with private outdoor spaces that need no air conditioning.

Moreover, Alys Beach is the first town in the nation to be built to the new “Fortified for Safer Living” standards established by the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

It’s rooted in ancient architectural wisdom. “Like some of the oldest structures in Europe, these are built to last hundreds of years,” said Mike Ragsdale, spokesman for the resort town. “These buildings are much smarter than what’s going up in other places right now. They’re built with solid, reinforced concrete, bulletproof windows, tiles that never need replacing and rooftops anchored to the foundations.”

If the design of its buildings is appealing, the beaches themselves are the real draw. “You could walk a hundred miles in either direction, and find the same pure white sand,” he said. It’s actually pulverized quartz crystal from the Appalachian Mountains, pounded over thousands of years and deposited by rivers like the nearby Choctawhatchee. “The beaches are consistently named the best in the continental United States,” he said.

Because Alys Beach is one of the last areas to be developed on this section of the Florida Panhandle, the town’s architects had the luxury of learning from places like Destin and Panama City Beach. Restrictions are in place. “We have some fairly rigid laws for future development,” he said. No building can be higher than fifty feet in height in this part of the county. Forty percent of the land – or 25,000 acres – is undevelopable.

Fifty homes have been built. Eventually the resort town will grow to 900. It’s a thirty-year project, Mike said.

But it should last much longer.

For more, go here.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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1 Comment

on June 24, 2014

Hi, I would like to paint one of your photographs of Alys beach. Would that be OK with the the photographer. Thanks, Tim



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