Project description provided by Brillhart Architecture: The design for our house reflects a new architecture for the tropics. The house is deeply connected to the landscape. It relies on interpretations of specific vernacular principles (the Dog Trot, American Glass Pavilion typology, and Tropical Modernism) which have embedded environmental considerations; and gives architectural primacy to composition, materiality and the logics of construction.
Connection to the Landscape:
Located in downtown Miami, this steel, glass and wood house is nestled within the canopy of the Spring Garden Historic District, one of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, along the Miami River. It takes its cues directly from the surrounding landscape and its immediate proximity to water. Floating five feet off the ground, this house is raised in part as a response to today’s building codes, but also in anticipation of our changing environment and threats of water rising, as well as wanting to be “light on the land.”
Meanwhile, the house is designed to make you feel that you are living in the tropics. Perched in the center of the 330-foot long lot, the 1,500 square foot house includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass – 50 feet spanning the full length of both the front and back sides of the house. As a result, the landscape acts as the walls of the house. The interior and the exterior spaces are also melded seamlessly together. Four sets of sliding glass doors allow the house to be entirely open when desired. Also included are two porches along the front and back, totaling 800 square feet. Shutters along the front façade create an outdoor room with ever changing shadows throughout the day, while also providing privacy and protection against the elements.
Vernacular Principles – Old Models for Future Buildings:
The design for our house relies on a back-to-basics approach, specifically studying old architectural models that care about good form but are also good for something. We asked ourselves, what is necessary; how can we minimize our impact on the earth; how do we respect the context of the neighborhood; and what can we really build?
The Dog Trot:
Some answers came from a place with which we are already intimately familiar – the seemingly forgotten American Vernacular, and more specifically, the Dog Trot, which for well over a century, has been a dominant image representing Florida Cracker architecture. Historically, the Dog Trot was comprised of two small wooden buildings – connected by a central breezeway – under one roof. This simple, practical building is both modest and rich in cultural meaning; maximizes efficiency, space, and energy; relies on vernacular building materials; and celebrates the breezes. The floor plan of the Brillhart House is a modern interpretation of the Dog Trot, with sleeping quarters on the left, a central corridor (with kitchen), and living space on the right.
The American Glass Pavilion Typology and Tropical Modernism:
The American glass pavilion typology and principles of Tropical Modernism also offered direction. South Florida’s postwar architects – such as Alfred Browning Parker, Mark Hampton, Paul Rudolf and others – gave birth to a tropical modern school of thought and developed their own regional interpretations of the International Style by turning to local landscape, climate and materials to inform their designs. In an era of optimism and experimentation, these architects married building traditions with passive systems, new technologies, and innovative construction techniques. Emphasis on construction methodology was central to their work, and their simple, rational, efficient, cost-effective buildings became models for sustainable design in the tropics.
Using their work as inspiration, we sought an alternative to the use of concrete and concrete only (which today has become the dominant — if not the only — building material in residential construction in South Florida.) We also aimed to use as many off the shelf materials as possible to keep the cost of the project down and developed a kit of parts.
o The depth of the house is 50 feet, which is based on the longest length of a steel beam that does not require an oversized road permit.
o The width of the house was adjusted to fit standard commercial storefront sliding doors.
o The structural spans were kept under 20 feet, therefore dimensional lumber (i.e. 2” x 8”, 2”x10” and 2”x12”) could span the flooring and roof systems.
By exploring steel and glass as the superstructure, we wasted fewer materials, simplified the assembly, and reduced the cost and time of construction, all the while allowing for increased cross ventilation and a heightened sense of living within the landscape.