Image courtesy Houses at Sagaponac

Click on the slide show button to see the new designs proposed for the Houses at Sagaponac development.

Houses at Sagaponac was a project for a robust economy. In 2001, the late Harry Brown Jr. recruited Richard Meier to help lure architects, many of them famous, to design 32 modern, high-end residences for a 72-acre plot of land in Sagaponac, a village in the town of Southampton, on Long Island. Brown was hoping to beat back the number of traditional, shingle-style mansions cropping up in the area.

But one decade and one recession later, only eight have been built (by Tsao & McKown, Keenen/Riley, Shigeru Ban, Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, and others) and seven of those have sold, with prices ranging from $2.5 to $4.5 million. Brown died in 2005, and the property is now owned by general contracting firm Reinhardt, O’Brien, Oza + Company (R,O’B,O,Co) and developer Millennium Partners, along with David Hamamoto, CEO of Northstar Realty Finance Corporation.

Most of the remaining unbuilt designs are too dated, expensive, or unrealistic to build, not to mention lacking in sustainable features, says Nilay Oza, project architect and a R,O’B,O,Co partner. Now the owners of Houses at Sagaponac are attempting to reinvigorate the project with a different approach. They chose a new batch of 16 design firms—including Brooklyn-based thread collective, Bangalore-based Flying Elephant Studio, Los Angeles-based XTEN Architecture, and New York-based Cook+Fox Architects—to conceive fresh and less costly schemes (although the original designs are not off the table if a buyer is willing to pay for them).

The 16 designs will only be marketed until September by real estate firm Brown Harris Stevens before the owners move on to Plan B: host an open competition and invite architects from around the globe to upload concepts for the vacant lots. “We decided to become a portal to receive designs from anywhere at any time,” says Oza.

The competition website is scheduled to launch on September 21. While the details have yet to be worked out, a group of jurors will select a collection of designs and share it with the public. Buyers will then be able to choose a scheme and work with (and pay) the architect. “We could be fundamental to an upcoming architect’s career trajectory,” says Oza.

At a press briefing on March 17, Oza was pressured by one attendee to explain the lure of Houses at Sagaponac if prominent architects are no longer involved. “We just want a fantastic idea,” he said. In a phone interview later, Oza added, “We are at a place where either this project dies and goes off, or it pivots to face a new reality.”