For those of you who were unable to trek down to Coral Gables, Fla., or for those of you who did make it but would like to relive the experience, we revisit “Reinvention 2005: Greening the American House.” This was residential architect magazine's second symposium, and like the first, it sold out lickety-split. Apparently architects are very interested in making the houses they design more energy efficient, healthier, and more intimately connected to the landscape and climate they occupy. Or maybe they simply thought South Florida in December seemed like a fine idea.
More than 300 of you came from far and wide and Canada. Like last year, the event began with a housing tour. As impressive as the houses were, though, some of you thought the architectural highlight was our meeting place, The Biltmore Hotel, designed in 1925 by architect Leonard Schultze for the founder of Coral Gables, developer George E. Merrick. “The Biltmore is an enchanting place,” said architect/attendee Charles Paul Goebel, of Easton, Md. Yet, as with most buildings in Florida, the place was chilled to frigid, despite the moderate weather. In fact, our group—especially those from the region—concluded that Miami has a steep climb to reach sustainability. Most of its architecture prioritizes views and combats the engulfing heat with SEER ratings.
But Max Strang, AIA, did take his Coconut Grove climate into consideration for his house, featured on the tour. The “tropical industrial” building is long and narrow, sending coastal breezes through its structure. He preserved as many trees on site as possible, borrowing their shade for passive cooling. Atop the house, a trellised outdoor room is comfortable on all but the hottest afternoons. Chad Oppenheim, AIA, also made handsome use of the setting for his showpiece house on Sunset Island III. The building opens wide to views and air circulation from the intracoastal waterway. In this boating colony of manmade islands, it's the front of the house that's the private side. Here a striking courtyard shelters occupants within the protective planes of garden walls, the front elevation, and garage doors. Nearby, developer Craig Robins' Aqua community on Allison Island is an equally dramatic backdrop for Miami's social whirl. There, Duany Plater-Zyberk's Ludwig Fontalvo-Abello detailed his firm's 8.5-acre master plan of “tropical urban” mid-rise condos and townhouses for us. And architect Alexander Gorlin, FAIA, graciously guided us through his eponymous “Gorlin” building.
Not all of the housing aimed for sustainability, but it all showcased Florida's natural splendor. And that's an obligation for all who stake claim to a slice of land, said our keynote presenter, Brian MacKay-Lyons, FAIA, of Nova Scotia. His approach relies heavily on local wisdom, conditions of site and climate, and practical materials to create durable and enduring architecture. It's a refrain we heard again in other sessions, from architects Ted Flato, FAIA; Frank Harmon, FAIA; and Sim Van der Ryn, among others. Allison Ewing, AIA, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, FAIA, and Ross Chapin, AIA, addressed sustainable design at the urban planning level, where concerns about social viability and friendly density enter the picture. And Ken Wilson, AIA, Rick Harlan Schneider, AIA, Jason F. McLennan, and Peter Pfeiffer, FAIA, discussed the nitty-gritty of parsing systems, materials, and best practices for more sustainable results.
This winter's “Reinvention 2006: The Entrepreneurial Practice” gathers in San Diego to explore the many ways residential architects can apply their skills and talent beyond the traditional boundaries of single-family house design. Stay tuned.