Project: Vitri 2006
Drive east on the Macarthur Causeway across Biscayne Bay and follow the elevated road- way as it sweeps into Miami Beach. Ahead, tall towers and low rise buildings punctuate the skyline in a blur of geometric shapes; immediately to the left, a 1 l/2-acre parking lot sprawls from Bayfront West Avenue to the upper and lower levels of Alton Road and the Fifth Street entrance artery beyond. This is the site of Vitri, an innovative condominium complex that promises to bring a new dimension to Miami Beach architecture.
For the architects, husband and wife team of Jacqueline Gonzalez- Touzet and Carlos Prio-Touzet of Miami-based Touzet Studio Design and Architecture, the highly visible location presented an exceptional challenge. “We knew that this is a building that would be seen like a piece of sculpture – from many vantage points and at different speeds.” says Jackie. “We knew a ‘big box’ would not do on an important site like this, but Carlos and I love having an excuse to do a more sensual form anyway.”
Three main elements came into play. One: Satisfying the developer client, New York- based Leviev Boymelgreen, which requested a signature building for its first Miami Beach project. The company favors site-specific designs, as Vitri project developer Bob de la Fuente, explains. “This is not about a great high-rise tower, but a more intimate boutique low-rise that highlights the drama of its special South Beach location and will serve as a bookend to Marquis, our new project across the causeway in Miami.” According to the Touzets, the company could have built 80 to I00 smaller units in Vitri but opted for 66 larger units averaging 1,500 square feet instead. (Note: Boymelgreen, owner of some 25 developable sites in Miami, is also building Solei l a few blocks north of Marquis on Biscayne Boulevard.)
Two: Designing with the end-user in mind “…. always a major concern to us is the “livability” and enjoyment of our spaces by the future residents, “notes Jackie. Three: The City of Miami Beach’s request for a distinctive piece of architecture that would function as a “gateway” to Miami Beach. With the site’s height limit reduced to 75 feet (seven stories) a few years ago, Vitri would have to hold its own among much higher buildings nearby.
The Touzets have extensive experience designing for clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia over two decades and more recently, as vice-presidents of internationally-known Arquitectonica. Now, it was time to display their signature style of richly-detailed, sensual modernism.
Working with a site bounded by two different streets, the architects took the concept of one big building, fashioning it into two distinct structures. On West Avenue, a rounded five-story volume with glass walls, (“an actual curve with pie-shaped units,” explains Jackie) is juxtaposed with a gridded, horizontal structure that responds to the architecture and scale of Alton Road and Miami Beach.
The West Avenue “gateway” building reflects the natural environment of the Beach sea, sky and sand, using a variety of textures and colors-shaded blue glass evoking the sea, textured limestone for sand, and the sky visible through large framed elements. A curving concrete frame encloses glass facets that slip outward to capture views of Biscayne Bay and Downtown Miami. The articulated glass surfaces change with the light so that every angle is in motion while at night, the vertical limestone facing with slivers of stone on top of porticos will be illuminated to highlight the architecture.
Though not directly on the water, the building is definitely “of the water,” says Carlos, who notes that the theme continues inside the units as well with pale driftwood-color oak cabinetry; rich sea foam marble slabs on the vanities, and frosted glass panels that recall pieces of “sea glass.” The rectilinear Alton Road building reflects Miami Beach’s urban environment with an eclectic arrangement of windows inspired by a painting the Touzets like – Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. “This reflects the eclectic nature of the city itself- which we see as a composition of concrete, glass and metal,” says Jackie. “The different glass colors and irregular grid are meant to show that the City is a mosaic of different pieces, all contained within one frame of reference.”
Within the units, nineteen feet high glass walls bring light flooding into the living/dining areas. The master bed- rooms and baths are set on mezzanines that overlook the double height living space below. The bathrooms, under- stated yet impressive, with large showers, present cool spaces clad in stone and glass opening onto private balcony sanctuaries.
The architects decided to place the master bathrooms in both buildings facing the tropical garden that will flourish at the heart of the community.” We love celebrating the fact we live in a lush, tropical climate. Miami is one of the few places where you can go and “air dry” on your own private balcony, so why not take advantage of it and let residents enjoy it,” says Jackie.
On the main level, the units’ kitchens arc equipped with appliances by Miele and built- in Subzero refrigerators, enhanced by luxury cabinetry by BofTi. Kitchen tables from Luminaire are designed to match the kitchen cabinets and optional sliding glass partitions concealing the sinks, create an inviting environment for casual entertaining.
Twenty-two of Vitri ‘s units are designed as penthouses with enclosed “sky gardens,” formed by the upper level of 28-foot glass walls that extend well above the roofline. The partially-covered terraces offer space for entertaining with summer kitchens and wet bars on hand and the option of adding private rooftop spas with views of Downtown Miami and South Beach.
Relaxation is the theme of Vitr i ‘s central garden designed by noted landscape architect Raymond Jungles in tropical-resort style. The swimming pool is flanked by a waterfall concealing a grotto behind it and hammocks and lounge chairs dot the area in quiet retreats. Stands of tall bamboo, vegetation and river rock will create an island of calm around the Brazilian hardwood meditation deck which extends into the garden from the gym and fitness center nearby.
Ground level retail on Alton Road will offer a signature restaurant as well as service-oriented stores. As project manager de la Fuente says “Vitri’s central location means that it’s both pedestrian- and driver-friendly. Vitri is not your cookie cutter design, but it’s not too challenging for us to build it,” he adds.
According to Thomas Mooney, Design and Planning Manager for the City of Miami Beach Planning Department, “Vitri is one of the few properties we see that strikes a careful balance between being over-designed and under-designed.” he says, indicating that the detail combined with a fairly simple siting and massing scheme, makes it an almost unique project. “Vitri ‘s design is outstanding with very skillful execution. The Touzets have created an exemplary piece of architecture that should withstand the test of time.”