Charleston Place

Location: Boca Raton, Florida, USA
Project Categories: Urbanism, Architecture
Year Started: 1983
Status: built
Size: 15 acres

When it was built in 1983, Charleston Place was the first traditional development based on an urban pattern to be executed in Florida in forty years. The project uses some of the best traditions of the American small town, which is understood to contain the following normative physical elements: a small scale street network which becomes the primary ordering device, a housing type which may be perceived as an individual object but also defines the public realm, and a landscape pattern which is formally integrated with the order of the street.

Such elements were at odds with the “marketing principles” of post-war development, as they were proscribed by Euclidian zoning codes. Only the manipulation of certain zoning definitions enabled Charleston Place to be built. Streets were labeled “parking lots” in order to circumvent enormous setbacks, walkways were labeled “jogging paths”, and so on. Despite the guerilla tactics, Charleston Place helped bring traditional urbanism back into the collective conscious of the urban planning and design profession.

However, despite its social and economic success, Charleston Place falls well short of being a true neighborhood. The zoning precluded an intended connection of this residential district with any adjacent retail, which could have provided a “downtown” for the residents. Furthermore, DPZ designed all the buildings and as a result limited the project’s architectural variety. Although there was every intention of incorporating architectural diversity within the limits of vernacular building techniques and topological discipline, the attempt was not sufficient to generate the kind of urban interest which encourages the pedestrian down a street, or through a town achieved over time. This lack of authentic variety influenced the decision to include, in subsequent town plans, the work of many architects disciplined by a common code. Seaside was the first result of this direction.

Aerial photograph of Charleston Place, copyright Alex MacLean View of houses on the green                               View of a residential street                               View of a pedestrian passage                               Master plan of Charleston Place Typical house plans

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