As Marisa Fort Adams, head designer with the Miami-based firm Arquitectonica tells it, she never really made a conscious decision to enter the fields of architecture and design—they were simply an integral part of her life from an early age.
“My family has a lot of architects in it. Both my mother’s sister and my father’s sister are architects, and both of my parents are architects, so I grew up surrounded by a dialog that was often about architecture,” Fort-Adams, NCARB, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, recalls. “I grew up basically looking at a lot of architecture, wherever we were, whether it was at home or on vacation, and I think it was just a natural progression for me.”
And so it is when your parents are Laurinda Spear, FAIA, ASLA and Bernardo Fort-Brescia, FAIA, the co-founders and principals of Arquitectonica, the award-winning firm behind numerous Miami landmarks such as the Atlantis Condominium and American Airlines Arena, as well as famous buildings the world over, including the Westin Times Square Hotel in New York and the Banco de Credito Headquarters in Lima, Peru. In fact, it’s a calling that has become so ingrained with this family that three of Fort Adam’s five brothers are currently studying architecture and design, and will likely join the firm upon their graduation.
For Spear, who co-founded the studio with Fort-Brescia, Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Hervin Romney in 1977 shortly after receiving her master’s degree from Columbia, the opportunity to work closely with her family has been a blessing—if not a little challenging, too.
“I think Marisa and I work really well together,” Spear says. “We’re totally on the same wavelength and we energize each other’s ideas, so that’s synergistic. With the boys, there’s a little more questioning on all the guys’ parts, including my husband Bernardo or [son] Raymond, so it’s not quite as easy to design with them, because they take a stance that’s not quite where we see things, and then we have to find a middle road.”
“But there’s something really great about having people close to you who can question your ideas—I think that pushes you forward,” adds Fort Adams. “I think that the work is always better for it, that sort of debate that we all have about our ideas.”
And while that debate will certainly increase when Fort Adams’ brothers join the team, the overarching vision espoused by the firm promises to endure—at least as long as Spear has any say. Bold in design and expression, Arquitectonica’s architectural, interior and landscape work has a palpable exuberance to it. Vivid colors and textures combine with striking forms to capture a space’s cultural context and the attention of those interacting with it. Theirs is a well-honed blend of sophistication, sustainability and playfulness that leaves a distinct mark wherever their work is found, although Spear prefers to frame the firm’s style in a more pragmatic way.
“I think we just like to take into account the program—the function of the building, where it is, the cultural implications of where the building is—and be a voice for our slice of time,” Spear explains. “We’re not looking back nor forward; we’re current. In that sense, you would have to call our architecture ‘modern.’”
With so much creative blood flowing through the family, it should come as no surprise that the women of Arquitectonica are aiming their sights beyond the building sector. Spear has illustrated an array of children’s books, Fort Adams has dabbled in fashion, and the duo have recently collaborated on a book detailing the history of the firm and each of its offices around the globe.
They have also begun a concerted push to expand their presence in the product design field under the umbrella of the Laurinda Spear Products brand. While the business has already earned a reputation for inspired contract design thanks to a number of high-profile clients, including Wolf Gordon, Coalesse, Fontana Arte, HBF and Skyline Design, Spear and Fort Adams are hoping to garner more popular appeal with lines of furniture and fashion accessories.
“I’d like to see our product design division reach a broad audience, because I think that as architects, we have a sort of insiders’ perspective on what’s being designed, how it’s being designed, and the future of the spaces we live in,” says Fort Adams. “We’re always on the cutting edge of that, especially because we do a lot of residential design, so I think we’re in a good position to really bring some new ideas to the product design world.”
And while both women describe the process of breaking into the broader consumer market as a daily uphill battle, their unique vantage point from the sun-drenched coast of Florida has helped them to keep the ups and downs of the design game in perspective.
“Being in Miami, we have a global view, as opposed to being in New York City or Los Angeles, where you’re kind of in the thick of things,” Spear says. “We’re sort of outliers in a way, being in our location, and I think that helps us, because we have a big canvas that we look at.”
Read an extended interview with Laurinda Spear and Marisa Fort Adams, see more project photos and watch a video about Arquitectonica only at our Inside Sources blog.