August 1, 2014

Designs of Excellence

Architecture expresses the culture of a community in a big and bold way. And as Southwest Florida grows and changes at an ever accelerating speed, all of us must look to our architects to give this area its visual personality and integrity. What says more about a town then the look and function of its buildings?

But architects never work in isolation. Theirs is a collaborative talent, and the best architects are psychologists and skilled mediators-not to mention artists and scientists as well. Architects must consider function, beauty, environmental concerns, governmental regulations, site restrictions, construction schedules, the client's requirements and, oh yes, the budget. Do you wonder that any project ever sees completion?

The Southwest Chapter of the American Institute of Architects recently convened to recognize five projects that came to triumphant completion, adding originality and style to the local landscape. Gulfshore Life is proud to recognize these projects, which were chosen by a panel of expert judges for their innovation and creative problem solving. Please join us in congratulating this year's Design of Excellence recipients.

Soderberg Residence

A 1930s boathouse is transformed into a charming guest house with a crisp nautical attitude.

Modest scale and simplicity identify the 2,900-square-foot boathouse/guest retreat that architect Dwight Oakley created for his clients on Champey Bay, overlooking a mangrove preserve in the Port Royal neighborhood of Naples. Elsa and Peter Soderberg (who live across the street in a Gulfside home) decided to retain the elements of the structure's former life as a boat garage. The niche for the boats (they can be viewed from the living room) adds an additional 1,800 square feet and also includes space for storing sporting equipment. The Soderbergs have been coming to Naples for 40 years (New York is their summer home), and they have a keen sense of the importance of preserving architectural vestiges of the area.

Oakley defined his challenge as linking the house and site in a way that encourages "full recognition of the project's potential." That potential is unparalleled Gulf and bay views from nearly every room of the 30-foot high, four-bedroom home. Comfort for the inhabitants was another prime consideration.

The Soderbergs weren't interested in high-concept design and didn't want a lot of maintenance, so Oakley was not only the architect but also guided the owners on choices for the interior of the home. Standout features include red oak 3/4-inch strip flooring, tongue and groove 10-foot ceilings, and an all-white kitchen with wrap around windows, a pull-out pantry and a generous center island. Clients and architect chose a white palette for the walls. Oakley also custom designed the mahogany 8-foot-long dining table, matching bench and lamp tables. And he selected Louis Poulsen Swedish light fixtures throughout. The furniture is cottage style, painted distressed white. Chairs are of natural coir, area carpets of sisal.

Oakley dismantled the original building and salvaged sections to be reintroduced as non-structural elements for trim molding and beams. He kept to the original footprint but had to meet FEMA regulations and various other county, state and federal code restrictions that have come into being since the boathouse was erected in the 1930s. He added a front yard pavilion garden entrance that takes advantage of the deep setback from the road, and he was even able to include a swimming pool for the family. But, perhaps his most precious architectural gift to the property is a private tower room and deck with commanding views of Champey Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Soderbergs are so enchanted with their new-old boathouse that they're considering crossing the road with their suitcases and giving the main house to guests.

Olde Naples Seaport

Linking early Florida design with the demands of a 21st century complex.

Bruce Wade, AIA, a partner of Architectural Network in Naples, successfully connected the nostalgia and practical design elements of Old Florida architecture to his award-winning scheme for the Olde Naples Seaport, currently rising on the banks of the Gordon River near Tin City.

The Olde Naples Seaport is a mixed-use project that took shape under conditions established by the Naples City Council. The elected body wanted to ensure that the development would provide public access to the water while restoring some of the indigenous Old Florida design style to the waterfront.

"Style goes out of favor and can become old hat," Wade notes. "But there is some longevity to the Key West style. Historically, it represents what Florida was all about in the previous times." Wade believes this style endures because it has elements that work in any era in this part of Florida. "We took our cues from the existing restaurant with its pitched tin roof, bracketing and wood siding," explains the architect, "and we expanded from there. We had context to use as a basis, the buildings already there and the established Naples neighborhood nearby that is full of charming cottages from the 1940s. These things provided character and set the stage. Our job was to add designs for town homes-15 in all-and to help convert the space from one that wasn't economically successful into something popular and commercially viable. We took down part of an existing building and went from there."

The condominium town homes can be accessed by land or by water, and the marina on the site provides full services for boaters. All the town homes have roof terraces with sweeping views of the water. Prices begin at $2 million. Public access is provided throughout the entire site, including a pedestrian walkway to Charlie's Crab restaurant.

One of the judges, Don Singer, praised the project during the competition phase for its merging of public and private spaces. "The spaces appear intimate and livable," he notes. "And the whole project is a positive addition to the setting."

Bacchus of Naples

Innovative design results in a gallery-type setting for wine storage, gift display and an elegant party place as well.

Co-owners of Bacchus of Naples, Susan Essen and David Contreras, seemed to want everything in their new retail space on Fifth Avenue in South Naples. Bacchus is located on the corner of one of the most elegant streets to be found anywhere in Southwest Florida, so the structure had to fit in with the European Mediterranean glamour of its neighbors. But inside, the owners knew they needed modern space planning to allow them to display and store fine Italian sterling silver giftware, vintage wine and spirits, cigars, South American leather goods, even luxury bottled water.

Matthew Kragh, AIA, of Architectural Network, saw the project through their discriminating eyes and gave them a contemporary Continental building that is dazzling inside and out.

A graduate of the Illinois School of Technology (respected for its emphasis on modernism), Kragh says he was waiting for the chance to use modern language in a region of town known for traditional architecture. The outside of the building is a comfortable fit with the streetscape and offers deep green awning overhangs so that café society can find shade and cozy tables for wine tastings. Inside, high- tech lighting, sleek stone, glass, exotic hardwoods and playful art make the building a model of friendly modernism. There's even a waterfall built into a cabinet.

The judges were impressed with the way Bacchus resists the conventional layout of a retail wine store. It's much more like an art gallery and tasting party room. The wine bottles are organized to be part of the design scheme as well as to provide for efficient storage.

The panel of judges decided the project excels in its totality. People who wander in to admire the giftware or select a bottle of wine for dinner are compelled to linger longer than they expected. The space is just too beautiful to leave. So the owners are currently planning a round of wine dinners in the main room. Cheers to that good idea!

USDA Manufacturing Incubator

Not the shoebox approach.

When considering how to shape the USDA Manufacturing Incubator in Immokalee, architect Victor Latavish, AIA, threw out conventional concepts of office design and looked at the building through the eyes of the workers who would be inside and potential tenants who would need a dramatic first impression. He abandoned a conventional "shoebox" look for something more exciting and progressive.

The Collier County Airport Authority obtained a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to incubate new jobs and new business in Immokalee, which is struggling with the loss of agricultural jobs. Latavish's building will play an important role in this effort, because it was designed to draw new jobs and industry to the farming community.

A veteran at designing government buildings as well as structures for non-profits, Latavish has already designed three aviation terminals in the area, including in Marco Island and Everglades City. He says he translated his experience with those industrial projects into the design of the Immokalee building.

Latavish designed the galvanized steel roofline to resemble an airplane wing or a cutting edge, just the right image for an industrial manufacturing building located at an airport. Inside the long, narrow 13,000-square-foot building, tenants share a common reception lobby, a conference room, the bookkeeper's office and a business services room. Common facilities also include a tool room and quality control calibration laboratory.

The lobby and the boardroom are each distinguished by a curtain wall of glass. These glass-clad rooms give the building a polished and highly professional appearance. Each unit inside the building has front-facing windows and overhead rear doors. The judges were impressed that with a tight budget and ordinary industrial components and pre-fab materials, Latavish produced an artistic gem of a building.

About the incubator, he says: "Although this building was constructed with inexpensive warehouse steel components, it doesn't follow the conventional design of a shoebox, which often happens with a rectangular manufacturing building. This one speaks to you in a way that good architecture speaks, because it relates directly to its context-airport and efficient business space for small emerging businesses that need a place to grow and flourish."

Edison Community College/Charlotte County

An old schoolhouse provides inspiration.

Chuck Schmidt of Barany, Schmidt, Summers and Weaver blended the rustic appeal of an early Florida one-room schoolhouse as well as the new Punta Gorda courthouse and Charlotte High School into his design for the new Edison Community College in Charlotte County. The campus consists of seven buildings representing varied functions such as laboratories, classrooms, media center and a physical education and wellness center. But the separate structures are effectively unified by spatial organization and materials that Schmidt used, such as brick for the buildings and copper roofing. A covered walking area provides a deeper visual connection and offers protection during the rainy season of Southwest Florida. The windows in the buildings open to provide cross ventilation when air conditioning isn't needed.

A large oval village green south of the auditorium offers exterior staging for concerts and campus social events. The handsome four-legged brick and copper bell tower at the main intersection of several pathways is the reference point for the complex. It's also the favored photo op for graduates and their families. The campus currently serves 3,500. Schmidt's architectural contribution was Phase I for this evolving educational compound.

Ron White, the college's district director of facilities planning and management, describes the Charlotte complex as "the crown jewel of our three campuses. It highlights our emphasis on providing the best possible learning environment for our students and it is a place the community embraces with pride. The campus has become a focal point for the entire community." The project was named Outstanding College/University New Project in Florida in 200? by the Florida Educational Planners Association. And it was ordained Best Looking Campus in the State by the Florida Leader, a magazine for college students.

Architect Charles Schmidt believes the project works in large part because of its scale. "The buildings relate to humans," he stresses. "It was designed for students to park on the perimeter and then to walk through the campus. We placed a lakefront observatory at the entrance that serves as the welcoming front door. And from there, things just get better. It's a pleasant and functional campus made for humans to enjoy. I'm glad they do."

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