The Closing: Laurinda Spear

The Arquitectonica co-founder on the challenges of landscape architecture and why business travel is highly overrated.
By Ina Cordle | June 17, 2019 11:00AM

Laurinda Spear (Photo by Sonya Revell)

Though she has largely remained out of the spotlight, Laurinda Spear has been a driving force in both architecture and landscape architecture for decades as the co-founder and principal of both Arquitectonica and ArquitectonicaGEO.

In 1977, she and her husband, Bernardo Fort-Brescia, formed the architectural firm that now has offices in Paris, Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sao Paolo and beyond. And in 2005, Spear created ArquitectonicaGEO to focus on environmental land planning and landscape design, which she views as the most important element of a building’s design. Since then, Spear has worked on the landscape design of such major projects as the Perez Art Museum Miami, the PortMiami Tunnel and the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. Both Arquitectonica and ArquitectonicaGEO are currently at work on the Park on Fifth project in Miami Beach being developed by Crescent Heights and Terra. Spear is also in the midst of designing a new streetscape for Wynwood. She sat down for an interview with The Real Deal at the firms’ headquarters in Coconut Grove.

Birthplace: Rochester, Minnesota
Lives in: Miami
Husband Bernardo Fort-Brescia and their children

Why did you choose to go into architecture? I decided to study architecture because it seemed like a really optimistic profession. The people you meet are all at their best, and they’re trying to do these projects and get things done. My other choice was medicine, in which everyone is not entirely at their best. So, I like seeing people at their best.

How did you start Arquitectonica? We had no fear. It was a different time. So we just started it with nothing to do, and one of our first jobs was the Atlantis [the condo tower featured in the opening of “Miami Vice”] with Sol Luger [as the developer]. Also the Palace with Harry Helmsley [as the developer]. We did my parents’ house around then, too.

Were you always involved in landscape design as well? No, I practiced architecture for a long time, then took a U-turn to do something else about 16 years ago. I thought it would be really easy to get registered as a landscape architect — just kind of apply and go. No, you have to go back to school, do the whole thing, take all the tests. I thought it was horribly unfair.

Why did you start GEO? As a woman in architecture, yes you can do it, but your voice is not really heard if you sit in a room with a bunch of guys who are developers and architects and they all have their opinions. You’re not in a really good spot as a woman. Whereas landscape architecture, it’s almost expected that it would be more of a woman’s touch in one way or another. Not that it is a woman’s field, because it certainly isn’t. Most landscape architects are guys, in fact. It seemed more of a friendly profession to me at that point, because I had kids and I couldn’t just travel the world and do everything Bernardo was doing by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn’t a default. But it was just that I needed another way to be a designer and work in the environment.

Is there a disconnect between architects and landscape architects? Total disconnect. They are still disconnected. And the architects, there is no way to educate them out of the position of seeing that the building is first and the landscaping is next. It will be another generation before they get to see that.

Do you have a particular style of architecture and landscape architecture? I’m not sure that we have a style, because maybe in landscape architecture style isn’t something you would be striving for so much. We are more interested in creating environments that create shade, create water control, are user-friendly, are universally accessible, and all those components add up to a design. We strive to have projects that you don’t have to manicure in some crazy way. We try to have some level of shibui — mindful of things that work together — mindful not to do jarring things.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? Our projects take a really long time to realize, and then to look good, they even take longer, so projects we’ve done quite some time ago are only now starting to look in any way good. Some that we have done are the Port Tunnel and all the landscape around that. We did PAMM and all the landscape there. The Museum of Science is an ongoing project. Brickell City Centre, all the elevated landscapes there. The landscapes there are not on the grade, but they still seem pretty lush. If we have a niche, it is elevated landscapes in public projects.

How did you meet your husband? When I was in grad school. We had mutual friends.

What is it like working with your husband? At this point, I am very separate in what I do, because landscape is not his interest at all. I don’t think you can work day in and day out with your husband and also do everything else. I think you just learn to find your own area of operation. So there are things I like doing, and do. There are things I refuse to do, and really can’t do, like take a 12-hour trip to Lima, Peru. I’m not doing that.

Where do you like to go on vacation or travel? I don’t even understand vacation. By necessity, I have to travel a lot. I am really interested in other cultures and seeing how things work in other places. I’m pretty much interested in everything. Even if I go to Doral, I’m pretty much interested because I don’t spend a lot of time there — just how things work over there, for example. So, I’m not that picky about that.

What is the most extravagant thing you have ever purchased? I’m not extravagant.

What else can you tell us about you? I question why it has taken so long and [it] still isn’t there for people who build buildings to realize that the landscape element of a building is probably the most important part and that is what makes a building really attractive to people. And if you build a building and skimp on that aspect of it, I think your building is the worse for it. So everybody should just start thinking about that more.

The interview has been condensed for space.