Miami may not be the Portland-esque pinnacle of green, but environmentally friendly design practices are being incorporated into new construction in a wide variety of interesting ways.

The upcoming Grove at Grand Bay
The upcoming Grove at Grand Bay, designed by renowned architect Bjarke Ingels, is part of the new wave of eco-conscious buildings going up around Miami. Here, an interior rendering.

When 2020 Alton Road broke ground in 2011 overlooking a busy intersection in the heart of Miami Beach, the building, which resembles an encrustation of white rectangles and planes, was ballyhooed by its promoters as the greenest house in the world.

On such an extremely visible site, it was a house that made its point: Miami, Miami Beach, and South Florida must all become very green, and fast. The house was built to be “net-zero,” meaning it requires no electricity from the grid, and it would eventually return back to the grid energy that was created by a veritable power plant, including photovoltaic cells and vertical wind turbines within the building.

The property finally sold last August amid media coverage of its construction, including a feature by Bob Vila. But in 2011 the emphasis on building “green” in Miami was still just a whisper. Since then it’s grown from a novelty to a more fundamentally mainstream aspect of new construction. This shift, although smaller—and slower—than other cities more on the vanguard of the seismic trend, is important.

321 Ocean
321 Ocean will feature Nest Learning Thermostats that turn themselves down to save energy when owners are away.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely accepted standard for green building in the US. An office building of all things, 1450 Brickell, was the first LEED building in Miami, achieving its LEED Gold certification in 2010. But condos seem to be the new frontier. The list of new residential towers, where exotic green features and amenities attract the curiosities of buyers, is long and only growing. 

Grove at Grand Bay (Sales Gallery at 2665 S. Bayshore Dr., Ste. 500, Coconut Grove, 305-929-8646), a set of twisting towers designed by internationally famed “It boy” architect Bjarke Ingels and now under construction in Coconut Grove, is slated to be LEED Gold.

Aria Development’s under-construction 321 Ocean (321 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach, 305-490-7559) obtained a special permit from the EPA to protect the sand dunes and sea turtle nesting grounds on its beach, and the building features Nest Learning Thermostats, which learn your temperature habits and turn themselves down to save energy when you’re not around. The lobby reception desk at Key International Sales’ planned 1010 Brickell is being sculpted out of a fallen tree from the Colombian rain forest. The sculptor will replace it with 25,000 seedlings to counteract rain forest decimation.

1 Hotel & Homes in South Beach
1 Hotel & Homes in South Beach is transforming a 1960s-era building into an environmentally friendly luxury hotel.

Hotels—notorious for consuming energy and nature’s resources—are putting in their efforts too. Miami got its first LEED-certified hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites in Brickell, in 2012. And now in South Beach, Starwood’s under-construction 1 Hotel & Homes (2399 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-361-5100) is doing a rather extraordinary thing by converting a 1960s-era concrete structure—designed in many ways to be inherently unsustainable—into a much more green colossus. The reusing of the building itself, originally designed as an auto-oriented, air-conditioned fortress walled off from the rest of Miami Beach, already lends itself to the environmentally friendly practices the Beach is adopting.

Then there’s the huge “Climate Ribbon” that will be suspended above the pedestrian mall at Brickell City Centre. At its most simplistic, this is an awning of the future. The advanced engineering of the Climate Ribbon will passively cool the indoor-outdoor space below it by shading the sun’s rays and channeling breezes coming from Biscayne Bay blocks away.

When green technologies and practices are masterfully executed and integrated with local conditions and passive environmental design, the result is something like the stunning Pérez Art Museum Miami. The entire building is shaded by elegant overhangs, while on the wide terraces long, stalactite-like hanging columns covered in living plants and designed by Patrick Blanc, the inventor of the green wall, help cool the building they surround. The museum’s design itself, which so lightly touches the parking level beneath, feels like it could float off into the bay leaving a garden, and a few cars, behind.

Miami’s warm and watery location, made accessible by the railroad and highways, is what originally brought the throngs to our shores. Our climate and environment have always been the base attractions, the context of every other entertainment and diversion no matter how air-conditioned or far removed from beach sand.

Sea-level projections show that South Florida will be the first to be affected by rising water levels. But perhaps we can prevent the ocean’s intrusion into our city with focused and concerted efforts on features like thermostats and desks, low-flow toilets, concrete foundations, impact windows, and the myriad other elements that it takes to attain LEED certification. Additionally, our experience with hurricanes could prove useful in some way. It’s all a part of our collective effort to save Miami from the destiny Mother Nature could have in store for it.

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