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Designing Sustainably: KZ Architecture Makes Modern Moves in Miami

In the last few years, it seems any design project that receives media attention has to have the words “sustainable” or “green” attached to it. It is no longer enough to design a beautiful building—an architect must be able to defend his or her work on environmental grounds as well. Miami-based firm KZ Architecture embraces sustainable design as a way to respect the environment and create interesting, relevant buildings that suit each client’s—and the public’s—needs.

The United States Green Building Council created LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines to help architects navigate the world of sustainable design. KZ Architecture aims to follow these parameters, which include optimizing energy consumption, using alternative energy sources and environmentally preferred products, reducing potable water waste, and improving indoor air quality.

The firm’s Boano-Lowenstein residence was the first house in Dade and Broward Counties, Florida, to receive Silver LEED certification—and one of the first in the state—as well as gold certification from the Florida Green Building Coalition. This single-family home has met many of the LEED goals: it uses solar hot water and harvests rainwater via a 1,500-gallon cistern, helping to reduce the home’s potable water use by 45 percent.

Architect and KZ founder Jaya Kader Zebede (a LEED-accredited professional) likes to collaborate with designers who specialize in areas outside of her own, and she worked with landscape architects Bell + Aqui to choose native, drought-tolerant and self-sustaining plants. The home’s energy optimization is increased by 30 percent thanks to a white, cool reflective roof, extra insulation, energy-efficient HVAC equipment, and low-E glazing (which reduces heat transfer through windows). Additionally, the home was built with local and environmentally preferred materials, and contains large expanses of glass that allow natural light to flow throughout the house.

With all of the details that went into designing and constructing this LEED-approved home, it should come as no surprise that the design and construction were time consuming. The project’s clients (one of whom served as builder) approached KZ in 2006, bringing their dream home’s inspiration—a 1950s Buenos Aires house by Spanish modernist Antonio Bonet. Kader Zebede had recently become interested in the 1950s Florida modern homes that surrounded her office in Bay Harbor Islands, also the future location of her clients’ house. Because she is interested in designing buildings that relate to their surroundings and neighborhood’s historical context, she knew the clients’ ideas were a perfect fit for the location—and for her designs.

The resulting two-story house, in addition to being sustainable, is right in line with the midcentury modern aesthetic: clean, straight lines, large expanses of glass, neutral colors, and nature infused throughout, including via an entryway lily pond. By 2008, Kader Zebede received the AIA Florida Unbuilt Merit award. Once it was completed, it seems expectations were met: she received a 2010 Award of Excellence in Architecture from AIA Miami for the house.

Kader Zebede’s design philosophy, as listed on her website, reads: “I do not believe that one style is appropriate for every building; instead I strive to respond to the specific conditions of a site and to the owner’s program and desires.” And while she does not aim to make cookie-cutter houses, you can expect sustainability to continue to be on the checklist of all of her future projects.



KZ Architecture

Siniovcic, Damir, ed. 100 Florida Architects and Interior Designers. Miami: Design Book, 2010.

Sinovcic, Damir. "Tropical Modern: A Conversation with Jaya Kader Zebede." South Florida Design Book. (Winter 2011): 52–58.