Daily Archives: October 25, 2006

Vertical Urban Sprawl Preserves Environment

Urban sprawl happens. People need to live somewhere no matter what. Even tree huggers won’t live on trees. One wants to preserve the environment but must live in a home built with some wood occupying some land, right? One wants urban sprawl to be contained but who can stop 1,000 people from moving into Florida a day? So, this is all common sense. The new resident inflow and current resident population growth is impossible to stop and is going to grow. The environmentalists agree that it is an unnatural human phenomenon that is a major threat to the environment. The development community supposedly is in agreement with the notion. One has to take that with a grain of salt of course. In a place like South Florida environment preservation is especially important, because the Greater Miami area straddles the eastern edge of the Everglades. It’s not like Los Angeles with a surrounding desolate desert. We rely heavily upon the lush Everglades for water purification and supply, precipitation, wildlife preservation, and a general balance of the ecosystem. I’m no environmentalist but we need to preserve the Everglades as much as possible. So how do we do it and still support the rate of population growth? Draw boundaries that are not to be crossed by those environment-hating developers? Those have been drawn and redrawn over the decades. I’m not suggesting that drawing a development boundary is a bad idea. It’s necessary. Knowing South Florida developers, the idea of there being no development boundary is chilling to anyone who cares at least a little bit about the Everglades. Nothing would stop them from draining the water out of the whole swamp one acre at a time; from bringing in their engineers, contractors, trucks, workers, and cranes to systematically eliminate the wilderness and turn it into a vast inventory of private land. The alligators, flamingos, and other exotic animals would get evicted and forced into the Everglades National Park. So what can one do? The answer is simple. Build vertical.

This is not a complicated idea. What is worse for the environment, a 165 unit townhouse development that occupies 15 acres or a 400 unit community that occupies 2 1/2 acres? If you answered the former you better be an incredible arguer and spin doctor. More units on less land will favor the local ecosystem. Clearly, the two and a half acre community would be a high rise or combination of high rises. The living space is simply expanded vertically into thin air; like slices of neighborhood blocks going straight into the sky. The interior environment of the high rise community is controlled and self contained. There is little waste exiting into the environment at large. Little pollution being emitted. More importantly, less land, green space, and nature is being consumed by the human population growth machine. Developers remain distracted with their vast projects and profits. The only real difference is the sky takes the place of the tired and worn land in accommodating humanity; a perfect solution to mitigating the environmental crisis caused by human sprawl.

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Architect Profile: Arquitectonica

Arquitectonica is arguably Miami’s most important and influential architectural firm. The firm, which started out in a small Miami studio with two architects (Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear) in 1977, has evolved into a major international firm with 11 offices around the globe.

The firm’s success is something Miami should be proud of. Consider that the city served as the creative laboratory through which this great awarding-winning firm has evolved. The firm is a veteran in the high density condo design market in Miami.

They designed Brickell icons such as the Imperial, the Atlantis, and the Palace. Although these buildings are no longer talked about, for many years they were the most outstanding structures Brickell had to offer and emblematic of Miami.

Arquitectonica’s latest Miami project designs are powerful and ambitious. Many of them have several buildings (Icon Brickell,  Latitude, Axis and Bentley to name a few). the Related Group has just commissioned them to design Icon Bay. They did work on Icon Puerto Vallarta.

Hyperion Development has taken a liking to their work (Marina Blue and Blue on the Bay) having their projects exclusively designed by them.

In analyzing their architectural corpus you will find allusions to some of their past designs; animated and lively expressions. However, for the most part, in considering new projects such as the Hyperion developments, Icon Brickell and South Beach, Marquis, Infinity, and Axis, one must conclude that their vision of Miami is looking forward.

A glimpse of what will be a city packed with glassy, sleek, soaring skyscrapers crammed amid palm trees and traffic. One finds comfort in knowing that much of the Miami skyline is changing with strokes of Arquitectonica’s genius.

Developers in Hong Kong have begun to contract their work; another clear parallel between the two sub-tropical boomtowns. Arquitectonica is not inexpensive to employ. It is no coincidence that the wealthiest and most powerful developers often choose them. Development moguls know what works well and pay the high price, accordingly. As far as they are concerned, contracting Architectonica to do their design work preserves their legacy, protects their investment, and almost ensures visual success.

For Miamians, who bear witness to their city’s preposterous growth, Architectonica is an indelible part of their history.


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Architect Profile: Zyscovich, Inc.

Mr. Zyscovich’s firm is forward thinking and intertwined with Miami’s aesthetic future. Zyscovich projects are becoming synonymous with the visual impression Miami leaves those who witness the urban landscape. This is certainly the case in South Beach where Zyscovich has designed the Lincoln Center, Anchor Shops, 500 Block of Collins, St. Moritz, and Carlyle, but Zyscovich’s influence is certainly not limited to the beach and is in fact spreading throughout downtown. His projects have sharp lines and abstract shapes. His designs are futuristic in that they do not allude to past architectural trends, at least not blatantly. From the drawing boards of his firm to the streets of the city, Zyscovich makes history happen.

Their work reflects Miami’s vibrant, cultural, and artistic social fabric: colorful, diverse, and exciting. Bernard Zyscovich’s firm’s portfolio is wide ranging, covering everything from commercial developments and interior design work to airport terminals and residential high rises. Zyscovich’s influence on the city facade is most felt in his mid to low rise developments. His low to mid rise designs capture the essence of the neighborhoods they standin and blend well with the streetscape. Interestingly, his designs standout without becoming a distraction. Due to the sharp and stylish lines of this firm’s work, designs lend themselves well to being illuminated at night, which adds life and energy to the cityscape. The 500 block of Collins and the Lincoln Center are two fine examples of his illuminated work. Additionally, his buildings tend to be intricate, with grids and criss-crossing beams in contrast with bleak concrete surfaces. Materials like glass and steel are carefully balanced and incorporated into his midrise work, which tends to be more intricate than their high rise counterparts. Currently, Zyscovich high rise projects are simple and contemporary. They aren’t similar in design daring to their mid to low rise projects. The Flamingo, as seen on the right, incorporates night illumination on its distinct crown giving the building an iconic flair.

Villa Magna and Star Lofts also represent a departure from the abstract patterns of the mid rise projects and give way to more direct vertical and horizontal lines. Nevertheless, Z Inc.’s high rise work is not currently extensive and is probably going to evolve into more elaborate designs. Certainly, playing witness to this evolution is just another benefit for all who reside in Miami.


Filed under Architects, Uptown: Midtown Miami

Developer Profile: Pedro Martin (Terra Group)

Pedro Martin has moved from Greenberg Traurig to the steep and dizzying heights of the top of Miami’s development scene. The evolution of his projects has been mesmerizing to observe (from Nautica to Metropolis to Quantum to 900 Biscayne to 600 Biscayne to his proposed plans for the ten acre former Knight Ridder property). Certainly such a dramatic rise to preeminence is well deserved. It must have required long and hard planning, calculation, coordination, patience, fund raising, and a whole lot of guts. His rise to power, although dizzying and worrisome, is reflective of Miami’s dramatic rise to urban eminence; a fitting comparison. His rise is worrisome because a severe market downturn may sink developers like Mr. Martin, but Pedro has been around long enough, as an attorney at a prestigious law firm in the Real Estate field, to know that from the second he endeavored to become a developer the stakes would be higher than his buildings. Still, the status quo is all if not more than he ever dreamt of.

Importantly, Mr. Martin’s actions have been farsighted and well judged. His land acquisitions have been well chosen and geographically varied—until recently with the Terra Group focusing its development in and around downtown. His actions began in Miami Beach, along the intercoastal. They moved to Dadeland with his 2 phase Metropolis project, and then he leaped over to the Omni area just north of downtown. Around the same time Tibor Hollo, the original pioneer in the Omni/Venetia area, already had plans for his latest local project, the Opera Tower. Tibor had also built the Grand Hotel and Bay Parc Plaza tower in the neighborhood. Mr. Hollo didn’t just dominate the area, he basically was the area. Pedro Martin’s purchase of two plots of land on 1900 N. Bayshore Dr. along with the Houston based Finger Co. development of what was then the Village on Bayshore Drive (currently Cite) and BCOM’s 1800 Club would change Tibor’s dominance for good.

With the inception of Quantum on the Bay and ensuing success, the nearby Opera Tower, 1800 Club, and Village on Bayshore Drive projects, which were at the time planned for rental only, changed gears. It was realized that the market was for condos and all three quickly converted. Some investors initially stayed away from Terra’s Quantum because they feared an over supply of rental units in too small an area was not good. In theory, of course, the rental units would devalue what is an extraordinarily valuable neighborhood under the surface but apparently not valuable enough to deter such an obvious outcome; a preposterous idea and dead wrong as it turned out. Soon, Daniel Kodsi planned his Paramount on the Bay project just north of Cite and the neighborhood was in the limelight.

Pedro Martin’s Quantum on the Bay was the first condominium on the strip north of The Grand. He helped set the trend. The others followed. As Mr. Martin’s projects went up and the cash flowed in, he made moves. Serious moves. He acquired land on Biscayne Blvd. directly across from Bicentennial Park (the proposed Museum Park), and bought the Freedom Tower with plans for 600 Biscayne. As if that were not enough to satisfy his ambitions, he purchased the 10 acre Knight Ridder owned land directly next to the Performing Arts Center. Having donated a million dollars to the PAC, probably seemed like a good idea considering his 10 acre plot of land next door. Clearly, Mr. Martin knows exactly what he’s gotten himself into. He works with different architectural firms. His projects are aesthetically varied. They are, however, on the high end of high density. He pushes height restrictions to the limit and maximizes his land usage with a high volume of units per project (quantum, 900 Biscayne, and 600 Biscayne are all 500+ unit developments). Quantum, for example, on less than two acres of land, will house over 500 units in two towers. Tight spot.

Still his buildings will leave a clear fingerprint on Miami’s increasingly impressive skyline. His moves have been impressive even to his peers. His rise to power has been unparalleled. His land acquisitions have been brilliant. Martin is a top class developer, of that there can be little doubt. Buyers need not beware. Rather be aware of his next move.


Filed under Developers