Brillhart House by Brillhart Architecture
Location: Miami, Florida, US
Client: Jacob and Melissa Brillhart
Size: 1500 sf
WOOD DESIGN AWARD, WOOD DESIGN & BUILDING MAGAZINE – 2014
BEST SINGLE FAMILY HOUSE, ARCHITECTS’ NEWSPAPER – 2014
AIA MIAMI HONOR AWARD 2014
AIA FLORIDA HONOR AWARD 2015
NEW YORK TIMES FEATURE – DEC 2014
Architects: Brillhart Architecture
Photographer: Claudia Uribe
The design for our house relies on a back-to-the-basics approach – specifically studying old architectural models that care about good form but are also good for something. Each design decision was organized around four central questions that challenge the culture for building big: what is necessary; how can we minimize our impact on the earth; how do we respect the context of the neighborhood; and what can we really build?
Some answers came from a place with which we are already intimately familiar – the seemingly forgotten American Vernacular, and more specifically, the Dog Trot, which for well over a century, has been a dominant image representing Florida Cracker architecture. The small, simple, and practical building is both modest and rich in cultural meaning. It attempts to maximize efficiency, space, and energy; relies on vernacular building materials; and celebrates the balmy breezes.
The principles of Tropical Modernism also offered direction. The architects building in South Florida’s postwar period turned to local landscape, climate and materials to inform their designs, marrying building traditions with passive systems, new technologies, and innovative construction techniques. In that same spirit, we sought an alternative to the use of concrete and concrete only, instead exploring steel and glass as the superstructure. As a result, we wasted fewer materials, simplified the assembly, and reduced the cost and time of construction, all the while allowing for increased cross ventilation and a heightened sense of living within the landscape.
Elevated five feet off the ground, the project includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass – 50 feet spanning the full length of both the front and back sides of the house, with four sets of sliding glass doors that allow the house to be entirely open when desired. The house also includes 800 square feet of outdoor living space, with both front and back porches and shutters along the front façade for added privacy and protection against the elements. These details, and the position of the house, which is at the center of a 330-foot long lot, allow the house to meld seamlessly with the site’s dense and lush native landscaping. With interior and exterior spaces fused together, the experience is that of a floating tropical refuge.
With today’s advances in thermal qualities of glass and insulation we were able to use the Tropical modern concepts alongside current Florida Building Code requirements. To meet and/or exceed the required R-Values, we included insulation on all six sides (icynene and rigid insulation); as well as 9/16″ thick thermal glass. We also had to design new assemblies in the process. For one, the new code just came out with requirements to insulate the floor if elevated. As this is a new requirement — we had to develop an entirely new floor detail – creating a sandwich with plywood underneath and on top of a layer of rigid insulation. Meanwhile, in order to achieve the R-Value on the roof and accommodate a slight slope, we designed a similar but inverse concept – installing tapered rigid insulation on the roof, with a layer of plywood underneath followed by icynine below.
The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. It is expressed as the thickness of the material divided by the thermal conductivity. The higher the number, the better the building insulation’s effectiveness. The design for the roof insulation resulted in a R-Value that exceeded what was required.
All images courtesy of Brillhart Architecture
Brillhart Architecture is a design office based in Miami, FL. Work ranges from residential and commercial projects to design-build endeavors, exhibitions, interiors, furniture and other speculative research projects. A reliance on interpretations of vernacular building principles and emphasis on composition and construction logic are the common themes that link the firm’s projects together. Often, the structure is the architecture, and sense of atmosphere is derived through the use of materials and a deep connection to the landscape.
The firm has been honored with national and international design awards, and work has been featured in publications around the world. Honors include 2015 House of Year (Architect’s Newspaper); local and state AIA awards and international competition winnings. In 2015, the firm was selected as one of five finalists for MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program. Work has been featured in the New York Times, Wallpaper, Architectural Record, Architectural Digest, Dwell, The Wall Street Journal, Architect, and Architectural Review, among other publications. Brillhart’s furniture designs and watercolor paintings have also been exhibited throughout Miami.
Brillhart Architecture was founded by Jacob Brillhart in 2005, after he completed his Masters in Architecture from Columbia University. He complements his practice as a painter, author, and professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
Brillhart has spent more than a decade making travel drawings – often using Le Corbusier’s sketches and travel itineraries as his travel guides. This self-education, which includes the creation of more than 700 personal drawings and paintings, serves as a platform for inspiration and is an ongoing aspect of research and development for the office. Grounded with a working knowledge of those architectural principles that do not change (such as form, mass, profile, shadow, scale, proportion, etc.), the office is then able to explore those aspects of architecture that do change – such as new technologies, materials, fabrication techniques, construction assemblies, and representational media – elements that make architecture present and transformative.
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