Swire goes beyond the normal contours for design success

HK developer moves away from inward-looking indoor spaces to create something unique in Miami

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 7:50pm

Does size really matter when it comes to city centre planning today?

In the case of Miami, Florida, it would appear that it does, where an ambitious 5.4 million square feet mixed-use city-within-a-city redevelopment project is so large that its developer, the US subsidiary of Hong Kong’s Swire Properties, was able to propose a unique zoning plan.

“The scale of the project has been key to its success,” says the project’s Miami-based architect, Arquitectonica founder Bernardo Fort-Brescia.

“In Miami, if a land parcel is more than nine acres you can create your own zoning. So, with 9.1 acres we were able to propose our own setbacks; how we would deal with traffic; heights, everything…”

The designer, whose portfolio of international work includes Microsoft’s European headquarters in Paris and Hong Kong’s Festival Walk, believes the project’s unusual design that links a 352-room hotel, luxury retail centre, two upscale residential towers, and two Grade A office buildings by means of a raised open-air pedestrian ‘promenade’ would have been impossible to achieve had the project been developed in a piecemeal fashion following standard development controls.

“We presented what we thought was best for the city, which is completely different to the usual style of enclosed building where you cross a threshold to enter an air-conditioned box,” he explains.

“It’s crazy but whenever my mother and sister would travel to Miami they would bring a sweater. Why? It is the tropics! But it was because the air-conditioning is always so freezing cold.”

At Brickell City Centre, however, the designer avoided the temptation to create a monolithic inward-looking structure. Instead, a more creative master plan emerged, retaining the city’s original street layout, constructing new buildings on top of the existing city block pattern with a raised, second floor promenade (above street level) that not only creates a highly porous series of connections between the different buildings, but also provides a second tier of high profile ‘street-style’ frontage.

The project included the renovation and integration of a key downtown Metromover station while the surrounding, somewhat dilapidated, area was improved with landscaping and gardens that are now home to a popular weekend farmer’s market.

To protect pedestrians from Miami’s notorious year-round tropical weather and frequent hurricanes, the designers also proposed an unusual open-sided ceiling of structural laminated safety glass panels that coils around the various buildings in an undulating 150,000 square foot-long Climate Ribbon™.

“We saw this as a unique opportunity to move away from an inward-looking indoor space and really open it up to create something that is specific to Miami,” says the Paris-based British architect Hugh Dutton, who was tasked with the detailed architectural design of the 1,200 tonne steel and concrete trellis.

Under the glass canopy (which is tethered to each of the buildings in a complex structural system of elegant steel beams) are waves of highly durable PTFE glass fabric louvres that are effective at creating a comfortable microclimate by capturing breezes that help cool down the public spaces.

The design also ticks a long list of other sustainability criteria including collecting and storing rainwater that is used to irrigate the project’s numerous landscaped rooftop gardens.

“We had so many practical constraints that helped define the original form. After that it was a process of continual refinement to achieve the aesthetic qualities,” Dutton says.

“For instance, we had to plan for two completely contradictory types of wind from protecting against Miami’s terrifying and unpredictable hurricanes to the sort of daily breezes that we wanted to capture and invite into the public areas.”

The meticulous arrangement of each glass panel’s sail-like louvers is also effective in softening the notoriously harsh Miami sunlight as natural sunlight bounces off the blades to create a translucent luminous surface. Meanwhile, the glass panels are treated with a special fritting coating, an effective light filter.

Dutton’s sensuous fusion of architectural form and strict structural functionality is already a symbol of the development, especially when viewed from the EAST, Miami hotel, the first of Swire Hotel’s North American EAST hotel ventures. The Climate Ribbon™-covered walkway links directly to the hotel’s expansive fifth floor outdoor pool deck and signature Uruguayan restaurant, Quinto La Huella.

Aimed at a young lifestyle-conscious business clientele, the hotel marks a departure from most Miami hotels that tend towards art deco and modernist beachside glam or traditional luxury.

Here, contemporary interiors conceived by New York’s Clodagh Design; a Los Angeles-based Studio Collective-designed 40th floor rooftop bar; and a stone-clad hotel double-height lobby that features renowned Miami-based specialty coffee roaster Panther Coffee, pays homage to the local setting.

“The project is perfectly timed with the logical evolution of the city,” Fort-Brescia observes.

“After the economic downturn many of Miami’s downtown office zones were rezoned and so a lot of high rise residential started to happen. The demographic has changed dramatically from 30 years ago when we had the highest average age in the country to now when we have the youngest average age. Miami is now seen as an exciting open city with a lot of opportunity. Anything can happen.”

It appears that it has.