Sustainable, Resilient Design

ArquitectonicaSTUDIO, ArquitectonicaGEO, and ArquitectonicaINTERIORS
Written by Pauline Müller

Celebrating women, and their innovative contributions to architecture, landscape architecture, and design, is an act of liberation. Since 2005, ArquitectonicaGEO, ArquitectonicaINTERIORS, and ArquitectonicaSTUDIO have viewed the act of creating sustainable, resilient design as ensuring the protection and responsible use of natural resources while shaping the fabric of architecture, landscape, and design.

Have they succeeded in this? One need look no further than the astonishing array of awards their collaborative endeavors have brought.

With several offices across the world, the company’s Miami-based team of female leaders is passionate about the three companies’ purpose in the world and the nature of their contributions to that world.

Part of this formidable team’s design ethos is allowing interior spaces to flow with—and into—the outdoor landscapes they are set in. “It is through their interiors that we experience buildings,” says Laurinda Spear, landscape architect, founder, and principal of ArquitectonicaGEO, ArquitectonicaINTERIORS and ArquitectonicaSTUDIO.

For this reason, ArquitectonicaINTERIORS is headed up by qualified architecture designer Beatriz Arauz-Fernandez, who is as passionate about the value of creating synergy in and around buildings as her colleagues are in their respective disciplines. Creating a dialectic exchange between form and function to enhance the other within each space is one of the company’s informing design principles.

Since the advent of COVID, people’s need for a closer connection with nature has motivated an even stronger movement toward creating soothing spaces that invite the natural environment inside. The approach has won the company the respect of some of the world’s most distinguished architects and developers who turn to them for top design and project delivery.

Its interior design mirrors this ethos. Firm in the belief that well-designed spaces should, ultimately, reflect the voice of the overall architecture of a building and its surroundings, the interior design team leads with a fresh, crisp approach to achieving harmony through creative ideation and a keen eye for detail.

“We like an integrated approach. We believe that the architecture, the interiors, and the landscape all work together. Clients benefit greatly by all of us working together under one roof as opposed to being separate service providers,” says Spear.

Leading with landscape
Looking at the landscape architecture that Spear and Margarita Blanco, landscape architect, co-founder, and director, practice at ArquitectonicaGEO, it clearly inhabits an elevated space in the industry. Here, the entire outdoor site and the integration of buildings and other functional spaces create a new kind of richly rewarding environment for people.

“People still link landscape architects with gardeners who will plant your tree or shrub in the backyard. That is not exactly what it is. Therefore, a lot of education is still needed about what it entails,” says Blanco.

The team is adamant that the landscape architect must be a part of the conversation around an architectural project from the start of the conceptualization phase. “You cannot design a garden on an elevated floor if the structure of the building is not prepared for that,” Blanco explains, describing the discipline of landscape architecture as part botany, part civil engineering, part architecture, and a host of other elements.

This is a complex field. Blanco feels it stands to reason that the common assumption of some architects that they have the knowledge to do landscape architecture without any additional training—especially in southern Europe, in her experience—is unfortunate. On the contrary, American standards demand that landscape architects are licensed and that they sign off alongside the buildings’ architects on construction projects.

Landscaping for the long term
Creating greener city spaces is an evolving—and necessary—field. Yet, Spear points out, the current avant-garde desire to punctuate cityscapes with buildings shrouded in dense vegetation is not as easily achieved as one may think.

“The question is, ‘who will be taking care of the plants?’” Spear asks. “Otherwise, it requires each homeowner to take care of their plants if it’s an apartment or condo block. It takes years for plants to become established.”

As the designer of the famous Miami Beach landmark, Ballet Valet on the corner of 7th and Collins, this American architecture laureate should know.

Over a quarter of a century ago, before other now-famous buildings of a similar kind began mushrooming around the globe, Spear and her team boldly opted to use plants to satisfy the client’s need for a beautiful façade—a façade that would also meet the city’s parking-garage building standards in as aesthetically enriching a manner as possible.

Today, the striking result remains iconic, justifying Spear’s place in the league of top international landscape architects from the first glance. Moreover, Spear was honored to learn that her bold experiment served as inspiration for Herzog & de Meuron in the design of the Perez Art Museum in Miami. As part of this great compliment, the museum’s landscape architecture was placed the capable hands of ArquitectonicaGEO.

ArquitectonicaGEO’s sophisticated designs offer outcomes that contribute to healthier environments and minimal maintenance. To achieve this, making an in-depth study of every site and its natural patterns, like rainfall and seasons, guides intelligent architecture.

“You can’t transport a tropical landscape to an arid environment. We try to include rain gardens and water cisterns that collect rain for irrigation. We plant plants that attract wildlife to make our landscapes friendly to whoever is going to use them,” says Blanco.

In this process, the team translates clients’ needs, and the broader zeitgeist, into buildings and spaces where humans can flourish. “We create our environments for the end user. And in doing that we can add educational elements and provide an unrivaled experience throughout a building—from even before the user has entered the building,” says Monica Grigorescu, associate director.

Sustainable luxury
Beyond its architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design services, the company also offers a select range of luxury products. This includes product development for clients, from fabrics, furniture, and wallpaper to lighting and clocks.

To an onlooker, the creative team creates with a free-flowing fervor reminiscent of Antoni Gaudi, the famous father of Catalan Modernism and the beloved local architect of Barcelona. In the same vein, ArquitectonicaSTUDIO is in the concept stages of creating an outdoor furniture line that reflects its signature aesthetic. “Our idea is to specify our products for our project so that they have the same look and feel as the spaces they feature in,” says Blanco.

Of course, its own offices are also state-of-the-art. Recently, the firm reimagined its working spaces to accommodate more staff and add private meeting areas while expanding its third floor, where Spear designed lovely outdoor spaces to enhance the workday. Further growth includes ArquitectonicaGEO, which has extended its geographic reach by opening a new office in the heart of Málaga, arguably southern Spain’s most beautiful port city. It also recently established a presence in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, to serve its Central and South American clientele.

As an international leader in its field, the company holds several prestigious certifications, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED); SITES®, a rating system for landscape architecture; National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB); and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA); and the Commercial Interior Design Association (IIDA). Its team of just over forty comprises creatives and professionals selected for their well-honed sense of detail and singular commitment to excellence on every project.

Key projects
Some of the company’s recent proud moments include its work on the University of Miami Lakeside Village, which welcomed its first students in the fall of last year. ArquitectonicaGEO was responsible for the landscape architecture design and ArquitectonicaINTERIORS for the interior design.

The team took the opportunity to create an elegant outdoor ambiance that reflects the clean lines and sleek finish of the buildings, softening the landscape with area-appropriate trees and shrubs. These include over 500 trees that had to be removed and stored in a nursery until they could be replanted in these beautiful gardens.

Even gargantuan lime rocks removed from the site were cataloged and used in the garden when the time came. The welcoming design includes a grand courtyard, study nooks, areas for recreation, and lovely terraces, all created with the comfort and enjoyment of humans and creatures in mind. The interior design is just as innovative, establishing a pleasing flow between indoor and outdoor spaces. And the shade provided by the buildings themselves, which are on stilts, provides ideal cooling and space for games, exercise, and study. Each floor comes with its own garden where students can study. The design can be described as functional yet current, comfortable, and quintessentially cool.

Another fantastic project is abroad. The design of the Mandarin Oriental in Santiago, Chile, is nothing short of delicious, thanks to the ArquitectonicaINTERIORS team. Every line and surface exudes elegance and well-considered luxury.

Closer to home, ArquitectonicaINTERIORS is working on a project for the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, both in Miami. “We’re giving it a sense of being a magical place. We can’t wait for this one to be completed. We’re very proud of it,” says Arauz-Fernandez.

Doing great and doing good
In an even larger sense, doing good is close to this team’s heart. It has supported many deserving causes over the years. That includes the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the YoungArts Foundation, and Shake-A-Leg Miami in Coconut Grove, which welcomes people with disabilities who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to sail on the ocean. ArquitectonicaGEO recently consulted for Fairchild Tropical Garden in the same city.

For Spear, how COVID reshaped this new world is an undeniable part of history, and most certainly, of design. Like most other companies, the firm adapted, most notably achieving an efficient new synergy between working hours spent remotely and at the office. “I think it has been a great improvement in the workplace to allow that,” she says.

Multiple disciplines
Indeed, adapting and working across multiple disciplines are in the company’s DNA. All three leaders trained as architects before realizing that, to them, landscape architecture and interiors form an integral part of the proper design of any building. This insight, combined with their sense of adventure, was soon incorporated into their company offering.

Spear’s advice to prospective developers and project owners is fundamental. “In the world of clients, many are now somewhat educated in design; many are not. It would be wise for anybody embarking on a project to call the landscape architect first,” she says. “They are the ones who figure out how to site the building, which is essential. And it should not be based on anything but what the site dictates, within zoning allowances.”

She also speaks with conviction about the planetary emergency we find ourselves in. “Everything we do should be very measured and thoughtful.”

“Every person has the right to a place to live on this Earth. Homelessness—if you’re constructing a development—should be something that should be addressed,” she says, pointing out the need for a greater commitment to this problem in the United States.

Turn down the lights
Another topic close to her heart is that of outside lighting. “It engenders great ire,” Spear says. “I am a firm believer in dark skies. Nobody seems to understand this. People want more lighting and more safety—which it does not [actually] provide. I want less lighting so that we can see the stars.” Blanco describes the situation in southern Spain as the exact opposite, as people, especially in small villages, all collaborate to keep outdoor spaces as dark as possible and so light up the night sky.

As talk of the night sky turns to talk of the future, the three colleagues share their ideas about where Arquitectonica’s three sister companies are going. And, while continuing to diversify its offering and expanding its global footprint are high priorities, they would like to see its culture evolve into one where ideas develop out of discussion born of collaboration amongst all contributors.

Because, as Blanco points out, in its essence, design is a tool to improve people’s lives while not harming the planet. Using recycled materials and other genuinely eco-friendly methods, they aim to contribute to the healthy evolution of the future of design.

“I think our role is to interpret our clients’ hopes and dreams, to refine and edit those to ensure that they’re targeted properly. To make them relevant and sustainable and appropriate for the time and place in which they’re occurring,” says Spear.

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