Bubil: Strawberry Fields and checkbook green


Confession time: I did not take a lot of notes at the AIA Florida convention last weekend in Boca Raton. But I did learn a few things.

Firstly, design codes really bother me. And architects aren’t super thrilled about them, either. Keynote speaker Randy Brown, an award-winning architect formerly of Omaha, Nebraska, and now of Boca Raton, showed how he got around them with a strip shopping center that he designed in his home state.

It seemed that Brown was breaking out of the local planning department’s comfort zone of mediocrity with his commercial projects. So they rewrote the design code to try to mandate that such buildings have the standard-issue retail architecture that has blotched its way across the American landscape. I call it “corporate contemporary” — traditional plastic foam ticky-tack and fake stone veneer glued to the outside of a concrete box.

It a form of “Strawberry Fields” architecture, because, as John Lennon sang, “Nothing is real.”

Included in the “Brown code” was a requirement that buildings have no more than 100 continuous feet of uninterrupted façade, and that the roof be broken up into sections of differing heights.

Brown studied the code and followed it to the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. “I met the requirements, but with modern materials,” he said in explaining his post-code strip plaza. He also used a design language that is very 2015.

The second thing I learned is that when building with sustainability in mind, it is more important to save energy than create it. Anyone with a lot of money can buy all the solar panels and geothermal units he wants; I call that going “checkbook green.”

But it takes brains to design passively so that not a lot of energy is needed.

“The key to an off-the-grid house is to minimize the load,” said German Brun of DEN Architecture, a Miami firm that received a design honor for a sustainable cabin it built in the Ozarks of Arkansas. “Generating more power can cost more than than your structure.” So use passive design for shade in summer and sunlight in winter, natural lighting, insulation and LED lights.

Finally, I learned that architects are very grateful when the media pays attention to their professional efforts. Andy Hayes, president of the Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects, was genuinely pleased to present the Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award to your real estate editor. And this appreciation was expressed by dozens of architects at the conference. Thank you, all!

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: August 7, 2015
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