Brookings development revives historic Maybeck stylings
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    JAN. 1, 2003
A 1,200-unit new urban development in the small coastal town of Brookings, Oregon, will carry on the building traditions of the early 20th-century San Francisco Bay Area architect Bernard Maybeck. From 1913 to 1915, Maybeck worked on a company town for timber baron J.L. Brookings, designing it to conform to the southwest Oregon coastal site, with numerous parks and pedestrian walkways and a south-facing view to the Pacific. Maybeck also produced designs for a range of buildings, including a school, a bank, a YMCA, and prototypes for low-cost worker housing. Now William Buchanan, president of Harbor Construction, is working with Michael Mehaffy, Douglas Duany, Lucien Steil, and Christopher Alexander to revive Maybeck’s legacy. Buchanan’s Harbor Hills aims to bring back many of Maybeck’s unfulfilled ideas, including construction of a community hall. Mehaffy, who was project manager for Orenco Station near Portland and is working in the same capacity at Harbor Hills, says he, Buchanan, Duany, and Steil recently held a “rolling” charrette in European villages, studying the “organic” geometries that made them emotionally compelling. The team intends to incorporate innovative “bottom-up” planning techniques, including the use of patterns from Christopher Alexander’s book, A Pattern Language. Architects, builders, and craftspeople are being recruited to bringing an exceptional level of skills to the project. To ensure that some homes are kept affordable, Maybeck’s simple, dignified worker cottages are planned for some lots, and other lots will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. Buchanan is excited by the potential of Maybeck’s organic approach to offer new directions that New Urbanism can explore. Maybeck’s work came near the historical moment when Americans began to regard the natural world as something other than hostile and foreign – something to be revered and studied as a model for human structures. Active in the American Transcendentalist movement that included John Muir and others on the West Coast, Maybeck believed human settlements should embrace nature in materials and in siting, enabling humans to seek their own place within the natural scheme. Buchanan considers the development’s site south of the existing town of 5,400 well suited for human settlement, since its hillside land is not suitable for agriculture, nor is it ideal forest soil. Building on the hilltop preserves prime farmland south of the Chetco River, where a significant part of the world’s lily and hydrangea stock originates. The slopes lend themselves to skinny streets and other characteristics of historic hilltowns. Over the years, the town has lost much of the Maybeck magic, but the team is working with others — as a separate project — to restore a number of the old Maybeck buildings. Mehaffy said the hope is to “combine natural forms, traditional vernacular forms, classical forms, and new technology in a synthesis reflecting its own time and place.” The Brookings Planning Commission is scheduled to review the Harbor Hills plan in January, with construction anticipated to start in the summer.