Brand-Name Condos

The full-page ad couldn’t be more to the point: The Beach House offers the ocean and Richard Meier.

Meier, considered one of the world’s top architects, is touted in the ad’s large, and only, headline as the condominium’s designer.

Developers nationwide are seeking out “name” architects as a selling point for their condominium projects, particularly in saturated markets such as South Florida where developers are looking for ways to set their projects apart.

In Fort Lauderdale, Michael Graves is working on the design of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Meier is designing the nearly all-glass Beach House in Surfside. In Miami Beach, the New Urbanist duo of Andr’s Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk were among a group of prominent architects called in to design Aqua.

This attention to design comes at an important time: An increasingly crowded America needs striking architecture to offset the density of new developments.

Many buyers like the idea of having such “art” as part of their new address.

“The design is so good it makes a better investment, it stands out from the others,” declares New York-based Jeff Kahn, who bought a unit at the Graves-designed Trump International Hotel in Fort Lauderdale that hasn’t even broken ground yet.

Still, real estate analyst Michael Y. Cannon of Integra Realty Resources-South Florida cautions that “name” buildings don’t automatically return a higher investment.

“Real estate is different than art,” he says. “Good design is very important but I question, and you can quote me on this, is the design functional once it’s built?”

Meier’s stylish glassy Perry Street Condominium Towers in New York, which helped start the “name” condo trend, developed leaks. Meier blames a contractor [who] didn’t follow the drawings.

Indeed, Graves says it is a hazard of being internationally known: The architect is associated with any flaw that might develop, although the actual construction is usually out of the designer’s control.

Still, internationally known architects are well regarded for good reason, he says. They know how to produce a stylish, and livable, building.

Meier, winner of architecture’s highest award, the Pritzker Prize, is now working on another New York condo project near the Perry towers and was brought in to design the Beach House at 9449 Collins Ave. in Surfside.

“I’m happy to lead the way both in New York and Miami and do good, quality work,” said Meier.

He has designed such high-profile projects as The Getty Center in Los Angeles, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Museum for Applied Art in Frankfurt, Germany, the Canal+ Television Headquarters in Paris, and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

In the early 1980’s, South Florida was the birthplace of cutting-edge condo design with the then-fledgling Arquitectonica designing what has become a landmark, Brickell’s Atlantis, the one with the hole, red spiral staircase, and tall palm.

Today, the firm has global work, from Singapore to Hong Kong to Spain. Several of the firm’s projects are in South Florida, including the modernist 67-story Marquis in downtown Miami, which will also have a hole in its center.

“Architecture defines so much how we live, we set standards of a quality of life,” said Bernardo Fort-Brescia, one of Arquitectonica’s architect-founders. “It has a huge role in defining the future, in defining how society improves.”


In fact, good design is essential as South Florida and other parts of the country become more urbanized, with the scarcity of land forcing denser projects, said Plater-Zyberk, a creator of the famed Seaside community in the Florida Panhandle and University of Miami architecture dean.

“The building design is much more important than in suburban situations where there is a lot of landscaping and distance between buildings,” said Plater-Zyberk, who is credited with her architect husband, Duany, of helping create the New Urbanist movement that advocates more walkable communities.

The result: “The demand for excellence in urban architecture is really in the forefront,” Plater-Zyberk said. “We’re building for the ages now. It [a condo high rise] is not replaceable. It’s not something to be taken down in 30 years.”

She did the master plan for the modernist Aqua community of three mid-rise condominiums and 46 townhomes on Miami Beach’s Allison Island. Prices range from $725,000 to $1.55 million for the condo units and $2.65 million to $5 million for the townhomes.

She and her husband also designed condo floor plans and several of the townhomes. A total of 10 architects worked on Aqua, including architect-interior designer Alison Spear.

“We certainly enjoyed watching it go up, we hope it will influence,” Plater-Zyberk said.

Aqua’s developer, Craig Robins, says the architects’ international following was helpful in marketing the units, but he says he didn’t choose them just for name recognition. Rather, he said, he knew they would bring excitement and creativity into the modern project.

But bringing world-renowned architects to South Florida hasn’t always guaranteed they would do their best work here, says Michael Kerwin, a Coral Gables architect and president of the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Miami-Dade’s main library and its downtown cultural center, for example, are not one of the best works of world-renowned architect Philip Johnson, Kerwin says.

Still, developers believe design, or at least a big name, sells.

In Fort Lauderdale, architect Graves, who won the 2001 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for career achievement and has become a popular housewares designer for Target, was called in to tweak the original plans for the 24-story Trump high-rise at 551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd.


Developers Donald Trump and Roy Stillman “wanted to take it up a notch,” says architect John Diebboll, a partner with Michael Graves & Associates. “They felt this would help the marketing of the building and bring value to it.”

The first design could have been built anywhere, Diebboll says. He and Graves, who also designed the Miami Beach high-rise condominium 1500 Ocean Drive, wanted the tower to reflect Fort Lauderdale’s beaches and wide expanse of ocean.

“A building has to be true to its context,” Graves said.

In collaboration with Oscar Garcia Architects, his firm created the tower with curvilinear lines and Art Deco accents.

Graves predicted that it will be “a chic oceanfront sanctuary” and “an enduring classic.”

Buyer Kahn agrees. In fact, the New York chemical manufacturer persuaded several other friends to buy units as both homes and good investments.

“I think this will be the place to be,” he says. “I couldn’t have found a better place to invest the money.”

In Surfside, Meier teamed up with Kobi Karp, who will be the production architect, to create the 12-story Beach House.

It features Meier’s trademark glass with an elaborate porte-cochere. It will have 101 condos that range from one to four bedrooms and cost $1 million to $8 million. Crews will begin construction this year and finish in 2007.

“I love building on the water,” Meier said.

Indeed, he designed the Beach House to emphasize its 200 feet of oceanfront, with floor-to-ceiling windows and large terraces.

“I want it to be more open, luminous, very light-filled,” he said. “People come to Miami for the weather, they come for the sunshine.”

While he appreciates the diversity of South Florida’s people, he said that is hard to express architecturally. Plus, as South Florida has shown, demographics can change dramatically in just a few decades, but a building’s architecture stays.

Thus, he said, it is better to have a timeless design.

Added Meier: “I want my design to be for all time, not just this time.”

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