The Outer Banks…outlier modernism


Jammed next to the Atlantic Ocean, on that thin wisp of land called the Outer Banks, North Carolina, there’s a roadside stand flaunting retro-modern stripes and the promise of fried bologna sandwiches.

Across the beach road in Nags Head, a series of shingled black ghosts built during the 19th century; wood weary and structurally forgiving, set next to the surf, daring the  hurricanes to come and get them.

Remarkably, the “Unpainted Aristocracy” houses (some of them constructed of wood reclaimed from shipwrecks) have withstood the onslaught of weather and water. Look how they’re raised on stilts to allow the sweep of water underneath, while guests visiting from the plantations sprawled on the wraparound porches.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest in the USA, wears a modern black and white daymark on its brick tower.

 The distillation of colours mimic the black shells and feathers on the vast Hatteras beach.

Inside, the tightly-wound spiral staircase is an honest interpretation of nature…

with a complex geometry that has inspired countless stair designs, from the one uncoiled in Gaudi’s  Sagrada Familia basilica to the one spiralling through the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

 Address: the southern tip of Outer Banks, where the lighthouse keeper once reported that he and his wife and their multiple children never felt lonely.

  1. David Oleson said:

    Chasing Home / Lisa Rochon, Great post about the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It brought back memories for me. Growing up in Washington, D.C. we were never too far from the ocean, whether the Outer Banks or the Eastern Shore of Maryland or the Jersey Shore. Our family was more often heading northward instead of southward because my grandparents had a summer house in Cape May Point, New Jersey, also on stilts and also clad with wood shingles like the examples you show. And Cape May Point being at the southern tip of New Jersey is quite exposed to the elements (like the Outer Banks), and has its own lighthouse, still operating. (In fact, the location where my grandparents’ house was in 1900 is now the ocean. It was moved a few blocks back in the 1930’s.) It was great fun as a kid to be so close to the ‘edge of the world’ at the ocean. Recent weather events have shown it is a precarious existence, but still a wonderful geographic area to experience and enjoy. David Oleson

  2. susan gibson said:

    Thanks you Lisa for a vicarious trip to that great mid-coast,
    shifting place. Weathered wood is wonderful. susan

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