Our interview with Laurinda Spear and her daughter, Marisa Fort Adams, for our May issue’s profile on the leading ladies of the Miami-based architecture and design firm, Arquitectonica, covered a lot of ground. Unfortunately, there were only so many pages in our print edition to tell the family’s remarkable story (“All in the Family”), and a good portion of our interview ended up on the cutting room floor.
Here are some more excerpts from our interview, along with some video and images of the firm’s work in Miami and abroad. You can read the original piece in HTML format or in our fancy digital edition—let us know what you think about the Arquitectonica approach to design in the comments.
Can you give us a little background on the firm—how did it come together?
Laurinda Spear: We started in 1978 as an architecture firm here in Miami and grew from there. We’ve had maybe 5 different offices in the city of Miami, and now we’re on our final one we hope, that we’ve built for ourselves and in addition we have 11 offices worldwide.
We were just out of school, and I was here in Miami working for the big county planning department, because I was in a planning program at MIT at the time, and Bernardo [Fort-Brescia, co-founder and husband] moved to Miami to teach at the University of Miami with his friend, Andrés Duany. So suddenly there was a kind of synergy between us, and five of us got together and started Arquitectonica. The other three spun off within two years, leaving Bernardo and myself with the firm.
(A look down the atrium of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Federal Courthouse in Miami. Photography by © Robin Hill and © Norman McGrath)
(The lobby of the newly designed South Miami-Dade Cultural Center. Images courtesy of Arquitectonica. Photography by © Robin Hill.)
Being based in Miami, does water play a large part in your design work?
Marisa Fort Adams: Very much so, because as far as being landscape architects, we’re really all for the incorporation of landscape architecture into a project.
LS: And we’ve been arguing this for years and years. How architects usually work is they design a building, and then they pass it onto the landscape architect, who adds some parsley on the platter, as it’s called. We’re all for having landscape architects really do the initial sitework and kind of suggest where the building should be located and the reasons for it.
The landscape should also really be related to the site conditions, and then the building should fit into that somehow. Even in an urban situation, I think it’s the same, even though maybe you don’t have existing plant material on a site—the way a building is situated and the strategies used to bring nature in should be decided before you design the building. So we’re kind of encouraging the architecture aspect of our firm to hold onto their horses and rein it in until we give them some clues, which in a way relates to the Chinese idea of Feng shui.
In what way?
LS: In Chinese culture, it’s a very mystical, magical event, but really it’s based on sound principals of environment. The professor or whoever it is comes into the site and indicates the best places to put your front door, the best areas to put your bedroom, and all that stuff. Even now in China, people are reluctant to build without a Feng shui consultation, so a landscape is not far removed from that—we can tell you about the site conditions that could dictate how you want to orient your building.
(Ripple seating, designed by Laurinda Spear Products for Coalesse. Images courtesy of © Coalesse and © Steelcase Inc.)
Can you tell us about the decision to branch out into product design? When did that happen?
LS: It wasn’t really a decision. Many years ago I started independently producing scarves and ties; I was also one of the architects working with Nan Swid, who at the time owned Knoll. She had her own little design company called Swid-Powell, so I did some tabletop-type things for her. Later on, I just moved into furniture for different entities, and now we’re still working on product design for different firms, and now, you know, we have dreams of glory a little bit.
For younger people coming into the field, what’s your advice for a lasting career?
LS: I guess for a lasting career, you should really love what you do and be self-critical a little bit. And go with the vicissitudes—the ups and downs. See a positive aspect in every success and failure, because there’s both along the way.
Speaking of ups and downs, it’s been difficult for architects and designers over the past few years. Have you ever had any discussions with your younger sons who are currently studying architecture about their prospects looking forward?
LS: Not at all; I am always very hopeful about architecture. Even in the worst of times, we’ve had a practicum program where we’ve had varying numbers of students working at our office, at least for the summer—now we have an intern/practicum program, which is slightly different.
I always think that architects will find their niche. I actually think that my two sons who are physicians have a little tougher road, because as I see it, they can never practice outside of an academic setting. They’re going to have to be stuck with academia, because I don’t think that there’s a place for the little country doctor anymore.
(Terranova Headquarters in Miami Beach. Images courtesy of Arquitectonica. Photography by © Robin Hill.)
What are your thoughts about the current state of women in architecture?
LS: I think it’s a very good and elastic profession for women because it doesn’t move forward so quickly—if you take time out to raise a family, by the time you come back in, it’s not going to have passed you by. If you’re a physician, you may have lost your whole momentum if you try to get back in, whereas architecture is really slow moving. If you take off some time and meditate and raise a family, by the time you’re back in again, you’ll just be richer for it.
Are there enough opportunities for women in the field?
LS: Plenty of them, absolutely.
You recently redesigned your own offices in Miami—how was that process?
LS: It was a process, because there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. [laughs]
What were you going for in the redesign?
MFA: Well, we moved back to the original site where my parents originally opened Arquitectonica. We’re on the site of the very first office. So there was a very small building, which we tore down, and we built our new office on that site. And, you know, the office is great, especially from an interiors perspective, because all of the materials and finishes are what they are, if you will. We just used concrete block, there’s no drywall, all of the systems are exposed, the floors are polished concrete--it’s a very raw space, but it’s also very warm, because it has a courtyard and lots of vegetation. It really embodies a lot of the ideas that we seek to promote in our work in general.
What ideas are those?
MFA: A certain integrity when it comes to materials, for example. Incorporating landscape and natural light. We have huge operable windows—you almost never have to turn on the lights in our office. There’s a certain indoor-outdoor quality to the space.