On a tiny island off the coast of North Carolina, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean, architects Chuck and Anna Dietsche have created a community where people are subordinate to their environment.
“It’s the objectification of man in nature,” Chuck Dietsche says about Bald Head Island. “You get the feeling of what the Garden of Eden was like.” Instead of a desecration of the landscape with strip malls, asphalt roads and concrete towers, there’s a deliberately-created sense of harmony.
After Andres Duany created the island’s first two streets, Dietsche was named director of planning and development in the early 1990s.
He created the master plan for the island’s 2,500 buildable acres, tucking homes into small groups behind the dunes and along the harbor, without violating the ceiling of the canopy of 800-year-old live oaks in the maritime forest. “We created communities by having the houses closer together,” the architect says.
Accessible only by a 20-minute ferry ride, and with transportation on the island only by foot or golf cart, Bald Head provides a refuge for people and wildlife alike. “You rid yourself of life on the mainland,” Anna Dietsche says. “You cannot believe how loud the birds and the winds are, because there’s no sound from traffic.”
Its protected wetlands and forests serve as habitat to sea birds, deer, foxes, raccoons, and alligators. “It’s wild nearby, but you’re in a safety zone,” Chuck Dietsche says. “It’s designed as an ecologically romantic place.” Owned and developed by members of the Texas-based Mitchell family of Mitchell Energy, Bald Head has set the standard for sensitive development. “They wanted an enlightened, neo-traditional built environment,” he says. And they got it.
J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for a number of national publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Dwell magazine. He also edits and publishes an online design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com.