Developer Andrew Frey on aesthetics versus urbanism in Miami’s building codes

Architecture Development East Facades+ News
2020 Salzedo rental homes in Coral Gables. (Courtesy Andrew Frey / Codina)

2020 Salzedo rental homes in Coral Gables. (Courtesy Andrew Frey / Codina)

When it comes to navigating Miami’s zoning codes, Tecela principal Andrew Frey brings an experience-based advantage to the table. Before transitioning to the business side of development in early 2011, he spent six years as a zoning lawyer. “I always wanted to be a developer, and I learned a lot from my developer clients,” recalled Frey.

Frey will moderate a panel on “Creative Facade Solutions: Responses to Local Zoning” at next week’s Facades+ Miami conference. Panelists include Arquitectonica founder Bernardo Fort Brescia; Carlos Rosso, president of The Related Group’s condominium division; City of Miami commissioner Marc Sarnoff; and Shulman + Associates founding principal Allan Shulman.

From the perspective of the Miami-area developer, said Frey, the two most important factors in facade design and fabrication are moisture penetration and attractiveness. As an example, he pointed to an apartment building project in Coral Gables, completed while Frey was with his previous employer. To tackle the moisture issue, the development team paid special attention to the window assemblies, and to any areas where water could penetrate the stucco. On the aesthetic side, they worked within the city of Coral Gables’ incentives for Mediterranean architecture to design a complicated envelope articulated to break up the plane of the front wall. In general, observed Frey, the facade is “extremely important” in an urban environment. For an attached product, in particular, “it’s the only differentiation that the building will have, because you don’t see the sides or back,” he said. “Townhouses, row houses, brownstones—for that kind of a building, the facade is all it has.”

Frank Gehry's New World Center. (no rain corp. / Flickr)

Frank Gehry’s New World Center. (no rain corp. / Flickr)

With respect to how Miami building regulations impact envelope design and construction, Frey mentioned two potential problem areas. The first concerns Miami-Dade County’s hurricane code, which requires special approval for every product used. “The state of Florida and national building codes don’t count, so you’re somewhat limited in your choices,” he said. Frey cited Frank Gehry’s New World Center as a case in point. “When going through conceptual approval, they were proposing a very minimally supported glass wall,” he said. “What they wound up being able to build had very thick structural members.” (Frey acknowledged that other factors, including cost, may have led to the change in design.)

Second, and more troublesome for Frey, is the subjective design review process. From his point of view, the existence of stringent design standards without an underlying commitment to fine-grained urban development reflects a confusion of priorities. “A lot of jurisdictions want to put in place very complicated facade design guidelines, but what they really need to do is to make small-scale urbanism developable,” explained Frey. “If your zoning just encourages super tall towers where the ground floor is an afterthought, of course you’re going to get monotonous, throwaway lower facades.”

Hear more from Frey, his co-panelists, and other leading voices in facades design and fabrication at Facades+ Miami. Learn more and register today on the conference website.

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