Touchstones of Waterfront Architecture

Architecture is the play of light on form.

When I was younger, I used to believe that Long Island “stole” the Atlantic Ocean from the lower New England Coastline of Connecticut. In reality, Long Island Sound is one of the country’s most magical geographic wonders. 


Seafarers flock to the many villages and points scattered around the Sound, from New York City to the magical points of the New England Coast, such as the North Shore of Long Island: Sag Harbor, Montauk, Shelter Island, Block Island, the Vineyard and Nantucket; the Connecticut seaports from Greenwich to Mystic; into Rhode island’s charm of Narragansett and Newport. In essence, Long Island Sound is a boater’s paradise!


As I started practicing waterfront residential architecture, the majestic coastline of Long Island Sound became more prevalent. Because Long Island “stole” the ocean, the cliché of the beachfront being straight, with streets running perpendicular to the shore, simply doesn’t exist. Instead, each lot–each measured foot of coastline–varies. 


The glaciers formed ins and outs–serpentine squiggles of land that face all directions. The result is that each property is unique, and THAT creates a different opportunity for design, separating those with a vision to find opportunity from those who only think “style”. It was not by accident that the Shingle Style was developed as a response to the uniqueness of the New England coastline. No, this certainly isn’t the Jersey Shore, Rehoboth, or the Outer Banks!


Each project commences through two factors: what is nature providing us with, and what are the regulatory restrictions? I always joke that a great waterfront house can be designed by walking the site while wearing a tracking device and a voice recorder. When walking the site, human nature leads us to the positions on the property we would like to be. “This is a great view to wake up to,” or “the sunset from this spot is breathtaking, this is where we should spend our afternoons.” We follow the sun–we follow the views. “Let's place the garage in the southwest portion of the site so we can block the afternoon sun,” said no one ever!  


So, it all starts with an assessment of opportunity, the sun, the views…and then the regulatory aspect.  FEMA and the flood zones, local zoning–how they combine to determine what become “the givens” of the project as we endeavor to start designing. It is also understanding how to build in a coastal environment: it rains “up,” the winds force windows and doors to perform in certain ways. Floods are never “if,” they are “when and how often?” As much as great design trumps all, the design must also perform.


There is a mantra that my studio lives by: Architecture is the play of light on form. Great houses are designed with numerous opportunities to maximize daylight and its effect on spatial flow–each accentuating the other, enticing you into a space, to convey a sense of grandness, not in size, but in the subconscious curiosity to want to experience more. It is not simply the location of a picture window, but the manipulation of the building’s envelope so that its spaces become a part of the view. 


The view is our wall. Never singular, but multiple, even when not obvious, experienced from multiple angles and often through multiple spaces simultaneously. It is always changing and moving: calm seas and violent storms, harsh sunshine and the soft auras, moody grays, and brilliant blues that nature has provided to us. 


It is our responsibility to marry that into our designs.


Bring Your Vision to Life with Christopher Pagliaro Architects


Christopher Pagliaro and his team use concepts of place, light and texture to create boundary-breaking homes that are born out of their natural landscape. To learn more about Chris’s thoughts on the latest in waterfront architecture, call us at 203.838.5517 or fill out the form below.

Want to Learn More About Waterfront Architecture?

Hallmark of a Christopher Pagliaro Architects project is the marriage of the structure and site to create a sense of place. To get started on your waterfront home project, get in touch with our team today.

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