Sometimes it starts with mere squiggles on a piece of paper, a design architect’s embryonic glimpse of a prospective building.
But it’s another architect — the nuts-and-bolts guy, the purveyor of plans, technical drawings and piles of construction documents — who brings that original idea to life before the first brick can be laid.
The exuberant construction boom sweeping Miami and the surrounding landscape, much of it stratospherically expensive condos and high-end hotels, has meant a growing number of collaborations between big-name architects from elsewhere — the so-called starchitects — and local architects who are deeply tuned in to how things are done around here.
“Everyone wants to design in Miami — it’s a brand in itself,” said Raul Rodriguez, whose firm, Rodriguez and Quiroga Architects, has been retained in recent years to work with out-of-town design architects on a slew of major projects. They include the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts — the former an alliance with the high-profile British firm Grimshaw Architects, the latter with the powerhouse outfit Pelli Clarke Pelli, based in New Haven, Connecticut.
“People like this have earned a reputation for their designs, both regionally and worldwide,” Rodriguez said. “When you cast a net so far, it’s difficult to become acquainted with the building methods and technology of all the places they go to design buildings. So they tend to seek local associations for the entire length of the project.”
Rodriguez, 66, who came to Miami from Cuba when he was 11 years old and founded his firm in 1983, is one of a dozen or so local architects, he said, who “compete for the big work” on projects that bring with them “the sex appeal of a star architect, a premium brand.”
Those design architects, he went on, “do not want the liability” of overseeing all aspects of an out-of-town building project, let alone “to get into local planning or zoning regulations.” That work is left to the so-called architects of record, now increasingly referred to by the more exalted titles of executive or associate architects.
Furthermore, as the design architect Max Strang pointed out, anyone submitting building plans as part of a permit-application process must be licensed as an architect in Florida. “The big out-of-towners, especially if they’re foreigners, they’re not going to have a license here,” said Strang, who is acclaimed for his waterfront modernist homes and who has 30 such projects in the works, most in South Florida.
Since Strang is based in Miami — in Coconut Grove, specifically — he and his colleagues at the firm handle both the design of local projects as well as technical drawings, permits and other minutiae. When he works out of town, mostly in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and — far from the water — in Telluride, Colorado, he allies himself with locally registered architects who, he said, “contribute a greater understanding of localized building techniques, permitting expertise and a more efficient interface with contractors.”
Another Miami architect, Rene Gonzalez, known for designing — among other buildings — a 30,000-square-foot house on Indian Creek Island that sold in 2012 for $47 million, marking a record for the most expensive home in Miami-Dade County, now has the luxury of being able to retain other architects to tackle the more down-to-earth aspects of his endeavors.
On one of his most anticipated projects in Miami Beach, an 18-story condominium building called simply Glass, which started life as a doodle and a few lines, Gonzalez’s architect of record is Rai Fernandez of Bermello Ajamil & Partners. Fernandez is also working on Gonzalez’s design of the Louver House, a 12-unit boutique condo in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood.
“It’s a relationship that’s established where we’re doing the design work and we’re transferring that work to an architect who’s putting together a set of construction documents and technical drawings,” said Gonzalez, who assisted years ago on executing Richard Meier’s design of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. “We stay involved during that process to make sure that the design intent is maintained and also that the details are resolved with the same design intention.”
Another Miami architect with a Meier connection, Kobi Karp, is in charge of all local aspects of Meier’s Surf Club project in Miami Beach, which involves not only the renovation of the legendary, 1930 vintage members-only club, but its expansion into a vast condo tower and Four Seasons hotel.
“In Miami, I like to work with other architects,” said Karp, speaking by phone from Abu Dhabi, where his firm has been involved in construction projects since 2005. “I find it interesting and enlightening to work with what some people call a star architect. If I work with a Pritzker-winning architect, they bring an added value to the project.”
Asked if there were ego issues in such arrangements, Karp was firm. “Not for me,” he said. “I have not had such an issue before. The design is a collaboration. The end product is also a collaboration. So to work on the design from the beginning, it creates a platform for designing the work together.”
Not all the architects of record get to help with design on someone else’s project, of course, but they appear eager for their contributions to be known.
“One of the myths is that the local guy only oversees construction,” said Rodriguez, who described his work on the Frost Museum of Science as perhaps the most complex he has ever undertaken. The “local guy,” he said, “develops the technical drawings from which the building is going to be built. It’s not just a swoosh on a piece of paper.”
In any case, the term architect of record is used less often now, with executive architect increasingly preferred.
“Architect of record sounds like the only thing you did was sign the documents,” Rodriguez said. Either way, he has no intention of giving up the projects on which he and his firm are top dog.
“The designers do the design, the fun part,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why we don’t give up the design part. It’s fun to work with these international people, but it’s also fun to do your own designs, so we combine both.”
In terms of reputation, he said, “Everything that goes right on a project goes to the star, and everything that goes wrong goes to the nuts-and-bolts guy.”