Futuristic Fusion

A magical merger of art and architecture

AQUA is an 8.5-acre residential neighborhood nearing completion, located on the southern tip of Allison Island at Collins Avenue and 63rd Street in Miami Beach. The $225 million planned community is developer Craig Robins's most recent and ambitious project. Drawing on the expertise of Miami's design superstars Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), this 151-dwelling development boasts a master plan that fuses modern architecture with traditional urbanism.

By making pedestrians a determinant of its design, AQUA represents an important step in the evolution of Miami's urban landscape. Its community-friendly layout renders AQUA unique among more traditional residential projects.

The success of Robins's development lies in the range of its modern architecture, which harmoniously comes together to reflect the designers' master plan. Providing a diversity of voices are well-known and emerging architects from New York and Miami: Walter Chatham, Alison Spear, Alexander Gorlin, Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, Suzanne Martinson, Allan Shulman, Hariri & Hariri, Brown Demandt, Albaisa Musumano, and DPZ.

AQUA combines traditional Urbanism with cutting-edge architecture
Jonathan Postal
AQUA combines traditional Urbanism with cutting-edge architecture
One of 46 island homes designed by ten world-class architects
Jonathan Postal
One of 46 island homes designed by ten world-class architects

The streetscape surrounding the concrete, palm-tree-lined entrance off Alton Road is dominated by a parking facility -- the last remaining building of the St. Francis Hospital complex that previously occupied this site. (Robins was born at the hospital.) Walter Chatham refurbished the parking structure, constructing sixteen stylish apartments on top of the existing edifice, including one he now owns. Partially covering the garage's southern wall is a 150-foot mural. Created by Richard Tuttle, Splash depicts a large water spatter made from colored glass and ceramic tile.

Near a partially completed terrazzo tile sculpture by Guillermo Kuitca stands Alison Spear's signature building -- a hip white edifice embellished with blue-tiled walls and salient glass balconies. Alexander Gorlin's neighboring beige structure is elegant and sculptural, showcasing deep balconies, and crowned by a swooping rooftop.

Aqua Avenue divides the project's three mid-rise buildings from its 46 townhouses built on the island's western side and clustered around lush, tropical courtyards. Most streets end at the water's edge, affording future residents views of Indian Creek.

When the newly planted trees are fully grown, AQUA will be a pedestrian's heaven, decorated with narrow streets ornamented by an abundance of foliage. In addition two groves -- one citrus, one mango -- will nestle among the homes and provide plenty of shade.

New Times spoke with the developer and a number of AQUA's architects at their respective buildings.

Craig Robins

AQUA is beginning to look like a finished product. How do you feel about having it brought to this point?

We felt that now that the mid-rise condos were finished, it was a good moment to inaugurate the island. This is a continuing improving process and the neighborhood will evolve. After Richard Tuttle's art project and the swimming pool are done, we'll get to another stage: people actually moving in and customizing their homes.

What's so special about townhouses?

If you look at housing types in Miami Beach, you get a lot of high-rise buildings. We thought that an interesting alterative was to have the private home on the guarded island; a similar idea to that of the most coveted properties in Miami Beach, only without the urban setbacks.

How so?

This project has the swimming pool and other organized facilities such as a spa, gourmet take-out, clubhouse, and so on. These are the nice things about a condo life. But you don't have the anonymous huge building (most likely with a generic design) in an oppressive environment with no possibility of walking. We have the best of both worlds.

There's an obvious conceptual diversity about AQUA. You stuck with this plan of mixing New Urbanism and modern or contemporary style.

I've always disagreed with this perception that New Urbanism is incompatible with contemporary-style architecture, and this is an example. I think we're breaking ground here.

Any future plans?

AQUA has inspired me to do a major expansion in the Design District. We're building twenty buildings, with more than a million square feet. I've learned the importance of new constructions. Remember, I started as a preservationist, and the opportunities for building on the Beach are quite limited.

You said today that the project is financially viable. Could you be more explicit?

We're not done yet, there're still a few details, but I can tell you that we've sold all of the condo units and most of the townhouses. This is a social experiment when you take the financial profit and you combine it with the benefits of what a project of this level brings to the community, the degree of innovation.

You'll live here. Do you own a condo or a townhouse?

I bought one of the houses. I love the prospect of living in a four-story building -- the privacy it offers, the distribution of spaces.

Walter Chatham

What is your contribution to the project?

You're inside the old garage to the hospital. [Laughs]

You fooled me!

My struggle was to turn an unfriendly building without windows (a sort of medieval fortress) into an acceptable image. I had to transform it and make it tropical. This building is the gatekeeper of the whole project. We realized we had to retain this structure, that we could put all the parking in this building, but it's a far shot from your ubiquitous Miami parking garage on the ground floor with apartments above -- not a very interesting choice.

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