The latest trend in building design? Bring the outside in

March 2017- The construction boom in Miami has spawned an array of design projects inspired by the city's abundant fauna and prismatic light. With climate change concerns becoming an increasingly important issue among Miami leaders, environmentally sustainable design has taken center stage. More than ever, local architecture and design firms have a unique opportunity to make a social impact while enhancing Miami's natural beauty with developments that celebrate the area's natural resources.

Brian Pearl doesn't plan on wasting that. A co-founder of Global City Investments, Pearl founded his company on the premise that their developments would build more than just buildings. "We're a social impact developer, and we're really focused on building projects that have a strong impact on local community and environment," Pearl said.

Alongside his partner Diego Procel, Pearl is currently hard at work developing two major residential complexes in Miami: One is a five-story residential building overlooking Legions Park, which includes plans for a public passageway and a revitalization of the local veteran's community center; the other is a student housing program near Florida International University's south campus, which would offer enhanced public park spaces for residents.

Global City Development is building both projects to LEED standards while focusing on enhancing the building's design with a natural aesthetic.

"We're big believers of inside-outside space," said Pearl. "The landscaping has been designed to bring nature to the indoors, so it doesn't feel hermetically sealed. We think that's very important to use much more landscaping than the typical development."

Juliana Fernandez, a founding partner of commercial design firm AEI, said more and more clients are making environmentally sound design choices.

"People are happier and healthier if natural elements and sunlight are integrated into the space," said Fernandez.

AEI, which recently opened a new headquarters in Miami, has seen an uptick in demand for environmentally sustainable projects.

"We are designing with LEED and WELL standards in almost every project," said Fernandez. 

For inspiration, designers look to two of Miami's landmark buildings: the Pérez Art Museum Miami, designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & deMeuron, and the prize-winning Miami-Dade Academic Support Center, designed by Perkins +Will. Both projects incorporate concrete and greenery to create a natural aesthetic that responds to the environment: PAMM's slatted concrete surfaces and living gardens enhance the building's ability to harness energy and MDC's light-filled window design and outdoor spaces foster creativity around the living environment.

"We do a lot of green walls, access to natural lighting, reusable materials within the space. We try and focus on the lifecycle of these materials and our environments," Fernandez said.

As new building construction shows no signs of slowing, Fernandez and Pearl said environmental design – both sustainable practices and aesthetic propositions – will continue to emerge as a trend among leading designers.

"There's a lot of things you can do if you expand your definition of nature and how human beings react to their surroundings," said Pearl. "It's changing the way people live."

By Nicole Martinez