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National Architecture Week: Reviving Edgartown Village

By Patrick Ahearn, FAIA, for National Architecture Week: Reinvention #ArchWeek15

The power of an architect is in the creation of place.  Architectural design is about constructing a narrative around a place that speaks to the history and lifestyles of the locale.  It is argued that architecture within itself can reinvent a community, but I prefer to think of it more as reviving the vibrant story of a particular place.  As an example of this, I had the honor and opportunity to do just that in Edgartown Village.

It is argued that architecture within itself can reinvent a community, but I prefer to think of it as reviving the vibrant story of a particular place.

I have completed over 130 projects both new construction and renovation within the village core of Edgartown over the last 20 years. All of this served the greater public realm honoring the rich history and traditional New England vernacular of Martha’s Vineyard, yet in a way people want to celebrate island life today. My vision was to maintain this rich maritime history while reinfusing the sense of community and vitality back into the seaside town.  The overriding urban design goal was to create a catalyst for the revitalization of Main Street, the harbor, and the Edgartown Village commercial district.  This was achieved in several ways through space planning and design.

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At the harbor’s edge, I transformed two existing buildings into The Boathouse and Atlantic Restaurants, which serve as anchors for the harbor and commercial district.  Attention was given to historic architectural details in the renovation of the specific buildings, but my focus was equally on the exterior space to be created around and among these buildings and the areas leading up to them.  The lively public restaurant “Atlantic” on the first floor, widened brick sidewalks, newly planted trees, new public access to the water front and docks, and installment of street furniture and a significant amount of outdoor dining at the water’s edge have all added life to the village experience.

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All these aspects were designed to foster pedestrian passage and gathering places in the downtown and harbor front.  Further, the architecture of The Boathouse recalls the shingle style of such notable buildings as the Newport Casino designed by McKim, Mead, and White as well as other seaside shingle style commercial structures.  With the success of The Boathouse architecturally and from an urban design perspective, many other shops and restaurants have seen a renaissance and revitalization.  No longer is Main Street lined with t-shirt shops.  Instead, a rich and varied mix of quality retail shops, new street trees, plantings, and lighting captures the essence of living rich and dynamically in an urban island village core.

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Even through private residential work, I have maintained consideration for the public’s architectural experience.  The redesign of the private residences purposely extends the experience of the New England vernacular and enjoyment of the aesthetic of the rich seaside history.  Materials and design elements were chosen to remind the public of the historical nature of Edgartown; properties once again exhibit gates and arbors and carriage house garages from its previous era. As one walks down the streets toward the center of town, one can experience these elements of delight even before reaching the commercial heart of the village and in this way, one can experience Edgartown Village in a congruous way.