Often, the built environment is visually separated from its natural or other pre-existing surroundings. Gated communities, thick walls, and double front doors create barriers between inside and outside nature or city life is there, the quiet indoors are here. But for architect Rene Gonzalez, who has described his practice as holistic, the built environment should be connected, visually and physically, to its site. Gonzalez, who founded Rene Gonzalez Architect in Miami in 1997, prides himself on designing buildings that connect outside to inside, and vice versa, and that are inspired by earth, sky, vegetation, water, and all aspects of our natural terrain as well as the bustle of everyday life.
His Indian Creek residence on an island between mainland Miami and North Miami Beach, some of Florida’s most coveted real estate exemplifies this approach to design. Built in 2010, the ten-bedroom, fourteen-bathroom ultimate vacation home won Gonzalez a 2011 AIA Miami design award for excellence in architecture. Rather than planning a traditional rectangular walled structure, Gonzalez created a series of pavilions with gardens, pools, waterfalls, and pathways, all tied together with clean lines that guide the visitor through each space and toward distinct vistas. Materials mainly stone, glass, and wooden louvers both enhance the beauty of the surrounding environment and allow the constructed spaces to blend into it.
Moving through the two-story, 30,000-square-foot house, one is in constant connection either through open spaces or window walls with the seemingly pristine blue sky above, Biscayne Bay beneath, and nearby golf course. Light and shadow played starring roles in the design. The built spaces were meant to capture, filter, and reflect the sun and moon’s light and the surroundings waters, creating, as the architect has said, “orchestrated compositions” of light and shadow. Gonzalez achieves this feat by alternating porous materials wood louvers and glass with opaque stone. Gonzalez is composer, his architecture the conductor.
But Gonzalez does not only use his eye for detail and interest in holistic architecture for high-end residential properties. Last year, in 2011, AIA honored Gonzalez with an interior architecture award for his work on the Alchemist boutique in Miami Beach. Rather than drawing in the greens, blues, and browns of nature, this boutique embraces that other influence of Gonzalez the bustle of people.
The space does what should be impossible: it makes pedestrians want to enter a parking garage to go shopping. Situated on the fifth floor of the Herzog & de Meuron - designed garage, the boutique uses glass and mirrors to fuse the space with street-level city life. Pedestrians can see into the boutique, thereby tempting them to enter, thanks to a kinetic mirror installation a forty-four-mirror sculpture, really that reflects the movement within the shop. Additionally, reflective glass on the ceilings and walls allow the boutique shoppers to feel as if they are a part of the street-level scene below; though physically separated, perceptually the boutique is absorbed into the street, and the street into the boutique.
Gonzalez has received numerous awards, including six Miami AIA Awards, and is the first architect in fifty years to be honored twice by the National American Institute of Architecture for Miami projects (in 2006 and 2011). Metropolitan Home recognized one of his projects as Home of the Year and House & Garden named Gonzalez an architect that represents the future of design. If the future of design is moving ever closer to a seamless blend between outside and inside, between the natural and the synthetic, then Gonzalez’s path is certainly one to follow.