The Real Deal Miami

Miami architects resist “starchitect” label — but buyers bite

Bjarke Ingels, Chad Oppenheim highlight TRD roundtable
Panelists Bjarke Ingels and David Martin

Panelists Bjarke Ingels and David Martin (photo: Manny Hernandez)

An architect who earns the dubious designation of “starchitect” will stand out from his or her peers, but the label can also place a heavy burden on the designer.

As auteurism is to the film industry, starchitecture is to building design: a mark of distinction bestowed upon the most individual and renowned designers, including the likes of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. Describing it as a “term coined by the media,” award-winning Danish architect Bjarke Ingels said anyone given the label must avoid the potential stigma that comes with it.

“The pitfalls of having a signature style are that you could fall into the trap of always doing a signature style,” Ingels said. “Architecture is a form of portraiture, where you try to capture some of the core qualities of a place.”

Panelists at last night’s TRD event (left to right): Bjarke Ingels, David Martin, Mayi de la Vega, Esther Percal and Chad Oppenheim

Panelists at last night’s TRD event (left to right): Bjarke Ingels, David Martin, Mayi de la Vega, Esther Percal and Chad Oppenheim (photo: Manny Hernandez)

Ingels was part of The Real Deal roundtable discussion about starchitecture and other industry trends held at the Coconut Grove location of Terra Group’s luxury Grove at Grand Bay condominium development, the first American project designed by Ingels’ firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG. Several hundred guests attended the event at the 2675 South Bayshore Drive site.

The panel was moderated by Peter Zalewski, founder of Condo Vultures, and also included Miami architect Chad Oppenheim, Terra’s David Martin and residential power brokers Esther Percal of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell and Mayi de la Vega of One Sotheby’s International Realty.

Oppenheim noted the industry is rife with the “homogenization of design,” so architects must be more sensitive to the community around a high-rise project.

“The idea of a trend is something to be wary of,” he said. “We try to create something timeless. Context is important.”

Ingels and Oppenheim would not disclose the elevated fees their celebrity status allows them to charge when prodded by Zalewski. But the panel did opine on the potential financial benefits a starchitect can bring to a development.

Martin said the “name recognition” of Ingels generated interest from multiple lenders in Grove at Grand Bay. The stature of a project designer does not necessarily guarantee a financial windfall, however.

“The fundamentals need to work” for a high-rise development to produce profits in such a competitive condo market, Martin said.

Executives at Terra, a fixture in the South Florida development business since 2001, were “electrified” by Ingels during initial meetings with the architect, Martin said. After the 2008 housing collapse, developers in South Florida have become much more discerning about who they hire to design new projects.

“The question you have to ask,” Martin said, “is do you get a Pritzker Prize winner or the next Pritzker Prize winner?”

Oppenheim noted most of the burden falls on the developer to “see through your vision.”

The panelists also addressed the increased level of buyer sophistication in the current development cycle. About 175 condo towers are currently proposed in the region. Many are being funded through substantial buyer deposits, as construction lending remains scarce.

That financial structure, with buyers putting down as much as 50 percent up front, is eliminating speculators from the market.

“We’re in a good place with the deposit structure,” de la Vega said.

Today’s buyers are heavily scrutinizing all aspects of a development, paying extra attention to the quality of exterior and interior design, Percal said. That puts pressure on developers to hire the best architects and contractors they can find.

“You have to deliver good product,” Percal said. “Buyers want something beautiful and are willing to pay for it.”

  • Architecture4all

    As someone working in the architecture industry and also someone who loves architecture in general I want to say a couple of things about this starchitecture phenomena and how it relates to Miami. First of all I am happy that all of these architects are coming to Miami to create magnificent buildings. Before just a couple of years ago, Miami was and to some degree is still a wasteland as far as architecture is concerned. People see architecture as real estate, a financial investment or construction. There is zero discussion about added value in terms of design that buildings can bring to this city. Now as developers are trying to get wealthier clients they are using design (starchitects) and branding as well as interior designers, artists and others to make their bland constructions stand out. Before developers were building quantity and it mostly quantity and some quality. The developers that are using starchitects (basically architects who are doing their job and thinking more than just making plans that pass code and can fit as many units on a floor plate as possible) are having great financial success (from what I’ve heard up to 25% more per unit than a standard design). Hopefully that will translate to better design in other things as well. Great architecture makes cities and great architecture costs more. So I say thank God that the starchitects are here to show everybody what architecture can be. I can only Imagine what Miami will be in 3-4 years!!!

  • Architecture4all

    One more thing I wanted to mention. Every time some article mentions starchitects they always talk about incredibly high fees and such. Let me explain how an architect charges fees for a project and what is the legal definition of a project. A project is usually divided into 4 phases, Concept Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, and Construction Administration. There can more but this is the basic. Also an architect can charge between 3% to 15% of the cost of the entire project as their fee. Now an firm such as Bjarke Ingles has to be licensed in the state which the project is located or else hire a local licensed architect. They can then only charge for the concept and design development ( detailed design ) portion of the design which is less than 50% of the fee. The majority is the construction documents which are the legal contract documents that the owner buys and gives to the builder to follow. So for example at The Grove at Grand Bay project, Bjarke is the design architect and the local firm is Nicholas, Brosch, Wurst, Wolf and Associates. The developer might pay a higher cost but it is not as high when considered within context. Also the large of money they are making on Bjarke’s name has to be considered. The developers are making the money and the architect is taking the bad rap. Personally I believe he deserves the money for this high quality. Others don’t.