Since opening his own firm in 1993, architect Gary Justiss has designed more than one hundred custom homes, as well as numerous commercial, recreational, and civic buildings. New urbanist communities along Florida’s famous sugar sands panhandle, such as Seaside, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach, and WaterColor, are the main beneficiaries of Gary’s work—much of it inspired by Anglo-Caribbean architecture and all of it distilled down to its most simplistic, yet highly functional, form. He has participated as an architectural consultant for numerous charrettes for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, Dover Kohl & Partners, The Architectural Charrette Team, The New Urban Guild, and the CNU; and is a founding member of The New Urban Guild.
With much of his work situated along the Gulf Coast, Gary is a pro at designing and building for a harsh environment. “You try and build things sturdy and low maintenance on the coast,” he says. “That’s one of the brilliant things about Alys. It’s as close to building a hurricane bunker as you can do—stucco on block, concrete roofs, hurricane-rated windows. It’s as tough of an architecture as you can reasonably design, but it looks really elegant.” Gary says that for him, along with durability, sustainability is top of mind. “One of the things I’m realizing is wherever possible, if budgets can at all handle it, it is important to use long-term, durable materials and give the building a chance to last.”
One of the many things Gary loves about designing for the Gulf coast’s new urbanist communities is the adoption of zero lot lines and interior courtyards, rather than having a house built inside a narrow perimeter of landscaping. “It’s very counterintuitive and you think it would be a loss of privacy, but it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “With a more traditional setback on each side of a house, it doesn’t give you any meaningful space you can actually use. You tend to keep the blinds closed because you can see the guy brushing his teeth ten feet away.” Gary says the idea of building on the full footprint of the lot, right up against your neighbor, “is a smart thing. You create truly private outdoor space and there’s 16 inches of concrete block between you and your neighbor—you never know he’s there!” And the revitalized trend, started along Highway 30-A, the Panhandle’s new urbanist mecca, is spreading. “It took a while for the rest of us to figure it out,” he says. “But the whole idea of courtyard living, with fountains and arbors and summer kitchens, is moving north.”
After graduating from the Auburn University School of Architecture in 1978 and working for fourteen years for Birmingham, Alabama, architectural firms, Gary established Gary Justiss Architect.
We are thrilled Gary took the time to chat with us about all things architecture, design, and divine from his home in Chelsea, Alabama, where he works and lives with his wife, three children, three dogs, and about 20 chickens!
*Builder credits for this Design Dossier feature: Comer House, Alys Beach Construction; Fiasco House, Artisan Construction; Frazer House, Grand Floridian Builders.