Suzanne Martinson could be described as part of the “New Urbanism” movement, prevalent in Miami, Florida and ‘damaged districts’, such as New Orleans. She believes that building according to appropriate design standards can actually help cure wounded cities and towns while heading off further degradation of the countryside.
Having received her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami and her Masters from Columbia University, Martinson’s design principles are thoroughly grounded in an understanding of how towns were made historically.
“New Urbanists have learned to take the best examples of great places from the past: Savannah, Charleston, Annapolis, Alexandria, and Key West, and the unconquered pieces of thousands of other old towns, and combine them with planning for transit systems, appropriately placed parking, streets scaled for both pedestrians and drivers, redesigned shopping malls, and other modern standards”, explains Martinson.
“Within the history, you can observe how such districts maintained their vitality for hundreds of years, using careful planning, a mix of building types and uses, defining neighborhoods with well-located public space, and enough character to make people willing to fight for their preservation”.
One good example is a cooperative planning effort in South Miami Heights'
Caribbean School neighborhood, led by Martinson, which included a neighborhood full-service school, affordable and market-rate housing, a senior citizens' home, daycare, special needs facilities, and public park and infrastructure improvements.
Martinson established her own firm in 1985, and among several private residential projects, she has recently been highly acclaimed for her participation in the “Seaside”, redevelopment of Allison Island, Miami Beach. Elite architects
were chosen to manage separate projects on the island, with Martinson receiving one of the largest residential buildings; townhouses for “Aqua”.
The $7.7 million dollar building at 36 feet wide inspired Martinson to created full outdoor rooms as large as their indoor counterparts. The
developer revised her original drawings, however Martinson stood her ground, sending off a letter explaining that her Modernist house should not have "neoclassical spaces”. She prevailed, and her living rooms—with two-story ceiling heights and expansive views of the water—are some of the more stunning interiors at Aqua.
“I was striving for a modern space with an open plan and I think I succeeded. My house had the 36-foot lot. My idea was to go with the grand gesture and try to get the spaces correct: the open porch, an outdoor living room. It occurred to me to make a big facade. When you look at the combination ... you can set up those double doors and you can use it as a living room and you get this nice tropical room. It's romantic living in the tropics. The idea is: Are you outside or inside? Then you have another roof terrace.”
Martinson outs a huge emphasis on the interiors of her buildings, with large free-flowing space and majestic height a key part of her concepts.
“Ultimately this whole thing is about making your environment more livable, more in context with human beings. We have to learn to live better”, she says of her style.
In addition to her architecture and planning work, Martinson designs furniture and accessories varying from simple desks and candlesticks, to sofas and chairs. Her furniture and objects are modernist in design, yet very individual, depending on the environment for which they are bound.
Martinson has won five Awards of Excellence from the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects, and four Honor Awards for private residence projects including “Shoar” – a waterfront house featuring elegant, functional solutions to the demands of the tropical climate. The house is oriented to the southern water views, organized in to layers. The interior spaces,
like many of Martinsons’ designs are continuous and open with classic modern furniture, white walls, and a terra cotta floor reinforcing the feeling of uncluttered comfort.
Similarly, another project honored by the AIA, Pinecrest Elementary School, Florida incorporates the same modern, tropical features with the functionality to house such features as a kindergarten reading room and media centre.
A further 3 National Design Awards have been earned from the Institute for Business Design for her commercial designs
for Southeast Banking Corporation, Elaine Shops and Diamond Sales Offices.
In addition to her architecture and planning work, Martinson is a guest critic for university departments of architecture and her work has featured in numerous books and national and international journals.