As a designer for places of national and international renown, Mark Schnell has distinguished himself in the fields of visioning, urban design, planning, development strategy, community revitalization, and design codes. Thanks to a wide variety of experiences, Mr. Schnell offers a wealth of knowledge for today’s placemaking needs.
In September of 2004, Mark Schnell opened his own practice called Schnell Urban Design along Scenic Highway 30A in Walton County, Florida, a place that serves as a laboratory for some of today’s most thoughtful and innovative design. Since opening his firm, Mr. Schnell has designed places – some built and some unbuilt – in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, and The Bahamas.
Among the most prominent of the Schnell Urban Design projects is Cinnamon Shore, located on the Gulf of Mexico in Port Aransas, Texas (near Corpus Christi). Cinnamon Shore has ignited an exciting new era of Texas coastal community development. Design Bureau magazine said that Cinnamon Shore is New Urbanism “revived and revamped,” a place that “has architects talking,” and that Mr. Schnell has tweaked New Urbanism “for the better.”
By continuing to build and sell through the Great Recession – while comparable developments in the area went bankrupt – the original 60-acre mixed-use community has revolutionized design and development in the area and generated positive publicity. The community’s design and success convinced Time, Inc. to build the 2015 Coastal Living Beach House and the 2009 Southern Living Idea House at Cinnamon Shore. Now the community is expanding in two new sections known as Cinnamon Shore South and Cinnamon Shore Bay, bringing the total area of the community to 320 acres. Construction of the infrastructure for the next phase is complete, and vertical construction is beginning.
Mr. Schnell has provided an extremely wide range of services for Cinnamon Shore: he drew the plan, wrote the design code, designed parks and pavilions, and continues to provide design review for houses, condominiums, mixed-use buildings, and amenities. Mr. Schnell has also designed several houses, the rental building, the realty office, and a restaurant in the community. The project illustrates Mr. Schnell’s wide range of skills and services.
Transforming the Texas Coast… and Beyond
Mr. Schnell is also leading the way for two other communities along the Texas coast. One is called Palmilla Beach, a beachfront community with a walkable mixed-use design and a location adjacent to a beautiful Arnold Palmer Golf Course. The first phase of 50 acres is under construction, and includes Schnell’s pool and amenity center, two mixed-use buildings, and several houses. A portion of this project involves redevelopment utilizing existing infrastructure from a defunct development. The other community, Sunflower Beach, is next door to Palmilla Beach and features a strong master plan and diverse architecture. Together with Cinnamon Shore, these new projects are creating a bold new era for the Texas coast.
Despite the concentration of projects along the Texas coast, Mark Schnell has always worked in a wide variety of locations and contexts. In recent years, Schnell Urban Design participated in several projects that are closer to home. Closest to home was Mark’s own home and studio, which served as the 2015 Coastal Living Beach Cottage for Coastal Living magazine. He also assisted in the creation of the South Walton Public Space Design Guide and provided a design for the master plan for the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport, FL. Finally, he created a master plan for the iconic outdoor adventure business of the Southeast: the Nantahala Outdoor Center in the western North Carolina mountains.
After graduating with Special Honors from the University of Colorado in 1996, Mr. Schnell worked on the award-winning Stapleton project, among the largest and most prominent urban infill projects in the country. He contributed to the early implementation of the Stapleton Development Plan, the blueprint for the future of Denver’s former airport site. The 4,700- acre site has been transformed into a series of sustainable and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. As a designer for the Stapleton Development Corporation, Mr. Schnell worked on planning, urban design, design review, and parks and open space projects.
In 1998, Mr. Schnell moved on to Humphries Poli Architects, a firm noted for excellence in design. He worked on a wide variety of building types, giving him a strong foundation in building design, spatial needs for different building types, and the prototypes used in the real estate market.
Mr. Schnell joined Cooper Carry in July of 1999. He initially worked in the firm’s Alexandria, Virginia office, known as the Main Street Studio. He was a key contributor to several projects, including the repositioning of Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia; the expansion of The Village at Shirlington in Arlington, Virginia; and the development of Southwood in Tallahassee, Florida. In the process, Mr. Schnell engaged some of the most respected developers in the country, including Charles E. Smith Company, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and The St. Joe Company.
In 2001, Mr. Schnell transferred to the firm’s Atlanta office to join The Center for Connective Architecture, the firm’s urbanism think tank. He was a lead designer for The Center, and also maintained a “research and development” role within the studio. During his time with The Center, Mr. Schnell played an integral role in projects that are improving communities and the quality of life for residents. The Center’s work in Cleveland – a downtown plan and a strategy for Euclid Avenue and East Fourth Street – added a new layer of revitalization to the city’s core. In Savannah, Mr. Schnell organized and participated in a charette to return one of the city’s historic squares – long covered by a parking deck – to a public space. The Center’s plan for downtown Greensboro, North Carolina continues to see very positive results. The Center City Park and the minor league ballpark are major success stories that are attracting private development and investment in downtown. Work continues on other aspects of the downtown Greensboro plan. Mr. Schnell was involved with eleven significant downtown/neighborhood plans, serving as a leader or integral team member in all of them.
Within The Center, Mr. Schnell worked on a wide variety of projects. Some were large private-sector developments, such as the new town called Anson outside of Indianapolis and the redevelopment of single family housing at Fort Meade, part of the military’s effort to engage private developers to improve housing. Other projects involved both design and the regulatory side of planning: Mr. Schnell contributed to the design and wrote the design guidelines for Raleigh’s main street, Fayetteville Street. One of the last of the failed downtown pedestrian malls, Fayetteville was transformed into a grand civic street, open to vehicular traffic, with active retail edges.
In the summer of 2004, Mr. Schnell worked on a temporary contract with noted firm Looney Ricks Kiss Architects of Memphis. He worked mostly on the repositioning of Old Kinderhook, a resort community on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
Education, Outreach, and the Media
Mr. Schnell is actively engaged in urban design education and outreach, and he and his work have been frequently featured in the media. He writes a column about urban design for the Seaside Times newspaper. He has been a guest speaker at numerous functions, sharing his work and knowledge with political, civic, and environmental organizations. Mr. Schnell has been quoted as an urban design expert in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and his work has been featured in several magazines and books. He provided commentary for the “Seaside: The City of Ideas” episode of the acclaimed documentary series American Makeover, as well as a South Korean documentary on New Urbanism. And, for several years, Mr. Schnell provided walking tours of Seaside – the birthplace of New Urbanism – through Seaside Walking Tours.
Mark Schnell moderates a panel discussion with Major General (Retired) Mark McQueen (center) and former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley (right) at the Seaside Institute.
The principles of “green” design have been integral to Mr. Schnell’s work since the beginning of his career. Much of his work over the years has involved the redevelopment of existing places, whether vision planning for downtowns and neighborhoods or new construction within a formerly developed site. For greenfield projects, the green emphasis has been twofold: planning that is sensitive to the natural environment and planning places that are walkable and mixed-use. At the scale of urban design, a primary concern is reducing energy use, and the creation or revitalization of walkable mixed-use places is vital to this effort.
Mr. Schnell is very active in the community. He is a co-founder of the 30A Songwriters Festival, a three day music festival held every January, and has served on the board of governors of the Seaside Repertory Theatre. Recently, he provided design services for the Alaqua Animal Refuge, including a master plan and equestrian facility.