The look of Celebration, Fla., is unique. It's not Walt Disney World's Main Street, U.S.A., writ large. Nor is it Small Town, U.S.A. There is no white-steepled church in the center of town, and much of the commerce--given that this is essentially Orlando--is geared to busloads of tourists.
Though the downtown area is small, the wattage of the architectural star power displayed there is huge: Cesar Pelli designed the art deco movie theater; Michael Graves did the silo-shaped post office; and Philip Johnson, at 92 the grand old man of American architecture, did the town hall, a small building encased in rows of columns. Some less flamboyant buildings in the town center, and the land-use plan for the entire development, were designed by Robert A.M. Stern and Jacquelin Robertson.
The residential area of Celebration is period architecture with a capital P. All the houses have period exteriors done in one of six styles that predate 1940. As Perry Reader, Disney's Celebration Co. vice president and general manager, put it, "We stopped the clock on style and focused on an era when small towns were at their best."
The styles are not what a casual visitor to Florida might expect: few "Florida Mediterranean-style" houses; mostly Colonial, Coastal and Victorian styles, with clapboard siding and shingle roofs.
As for floor plans, Washington area buyers would recognize the kitchen-family room area at the rear, but most of the eight model houses follow a Florida template with a first-floor master suite.
To help Celebration home builders develop a feeling for historical styles that most had never built, the Celebration Co. commissioned Urban Design Associates in Pittsburgh to develop a pattern book of six accepted historical styles.
In the end, though, it's not the look of Celebration that will attract planners and developers--or residents. The lure will be the land-use plan.
Celebration's homes are fitted into a "traditional neighborhood design" layout. It's a plan that's sometimes referred to as the New Urbanism and was first seen in the Washington area in Kentlands, in Gaithersburg. In a TND plan, houses are set close to one another and to the street, which is seen as "a communal living room, and not merely a conduit of traffic," said Orjan Wetterqvist, a professor of urban design at the University of Florida.
At Celebration, as in most TND projects, two-car garages, whose broad doors are often the most prominent feature on a suburban house front, have been moved to rear alleys, in keeping with New Urbanist thinking that such huge expanses of blank wall hinder social interaction among neighbors.
This "purposeful proximity" of the houses has led to what some Celebration residents refer to as their "porch culture." As Douglas Frantz, who moved into Celebration in 1997, noted, "One of my kids said, 'You can't even spit downtown. Before you get home, your parents have heard about it.' "
Frantz's "Celebration, USA" will be published in September by Henry Holt.
In describing their town, Celebration residents talk about a community and lifestyle and next-door neighbors. And they talk about a school and a town center within walking and biking distance, things that give a degree of independence that any child would envy.
Even teenagers seem to like the town center, with its brightly colored buildings featuring street-level shops and shaded arcades.
"My teenaged son and his friends Rollerblade downtown," said Rosemary Cordingly, a former Fairfax County resident. "I know where they are, and it's three minutes from my house. . . . It's more wholesome than a mall, and I don't have to drive them there."
CAPTION: Harriet Van Houten helps Andrew O'Connor, 2, of Celebration, Fla., cool off in a downtown fountain.