The Architects’ Laptop: Oppenheim Architecture’s Ode to Engineers Transforms From Concept to Construction in Miami

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

The urban myth that architects and engineers are perpetually warring with each other has been debunked time and again by incredible collaborations between the professions, but this harmony has been taken to another level for Oppenheim Architecture’s GLF Headquarters, recently completed on the bank of the Miami River. In this case, engineers are not just collaborators — they are also the clients.

Viewing on mobile? Click here.

“GLF is a heavy civil nautical engineering and construction company, so they work with primarily concrete, steel, structures like bridges,” explains Juan Calvo, Oppenheim Architecture’s Vice President of Design. Looking for inspiration from both their client and the surrounding context, Calvo recounts that the architects were “very excited to find that the river where their building is going to be located has the same kind of palette of materials.”

The firm began producing conceptual sketches with the help of Microsoft’s Surface Book, its intuitive touchscreen interface allowing for fast, fluid strokes on top of photographs and site plans. It soon became apparent that the industrial connotations of the building’s location and its client were the perfect drivers for developing an architectural form. “The building ultimately ended up being a series of containers stacked one on top of the other,” says Calvo. “[It] was very exciting to be able to find that harmony between client and context.”

An early rendering of the project; image courtesy Oppenheim Architecture

The GLF Headquarters has been taken from rendering (left) to reality (right) in recent months; image courtesy Oppenheim Architecture.

The resulting building evokes a stack of shipping containers at the water’s edge, but in place of corrugated steel, each offset box is wrapped with a skin of exposed concrete. Each pristine volume possesses a different character depending on its use: The parking structure on the lower story is left open to the elements, while the offices above are enclosed with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that are shaded from Miami’s rays by a refined series of louvers. On the uppermost story, a balcony offers employees views out across the river.

The design team’s ability to model intuitively on the Surface Book allowed for a smooth transition from concept to construction.

The versatility of the Surface Book came to the fore as Oppenheim Architecture’s design developed from elemental sketches to complex 3D modeling, with the laptop able to handle powerful rendering software more efficiently than stand-alone tablets such as the iPad. “Everything starts off with a sketch and then we take it into 3D, whether it’s Rhino or Maya, and then we kind of mold it from there,” explains Alex Lozano, one of the designers on the project. “[It helps] seeing it on a screen, being able to manipulate it, rotate it around. You’re able to catch these things that you wouldn’t normally see.”

The touchscreen interface allows for collaboration in the studio …

… and out on the construction site.

When construction of the GLF Headquarters finally began on site, the architects continued to utilize the hardware in a completely different environment. “I’m the type of person that sketches by hand, and with this I can take my sketches from the site and transfer them back to the office, which is important,” says Calvo. “You go to the site to resolve problems and the faster you resolve them the better.”

The completed building now stands on the bank of the Miami River in Florida.

The finished building is a result not only of the architects’ willingness to experiment, but also the technology that provided the design team with the power and flexibility to innovate throughout the life of the project. Despite the project being defined by bold, box-like forms, Oppenheim Architecture’s ode to engineers is a testament to “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Enjoy this article? Check out the first in our series on “The Architects’ Laptop”:

Johnston Marklee’s Museum of Drawings Is Brought to Life by the Digital Power of Surface Book

Paul Keskeys Author: Paul Keskeys
Paul Keskeys is Editor in Chief at Architizer. An architect-trained editor, writer and content creator, Paul graduated from UCL and the University of Edinburgh, gaining an MArch in Architectural Design with distinction. Paul has spoken about the art of architecture and storytelling at many national industry events, including AIANY, NeoCon, KBIS, the Future NOW Symposium, the Young Architect Conference and NYCxDesign. As well as hundreds of editorial publications on Architizer, Paul has also had features published in Architectural Digest, PIN—UP Magazine, Archinect, Aesthetica Magazine and PUBLIC Journal.
Read more articles by Paul

Model Your Metropolis: MIT’s Interactive LEGO City Brings Urban Planning to the Masses

There’s a wide range of tools used by architects and planners to communicate the potential imp act of major projects. Drawings, for example, are one of the most basic, as are masterplans, market studies and environmental surveys. None of these, however, are quite as accessible and powerful as a series of interventions being developed for the…

Cardboard Heroes: How 2 Young Architects Illuminated the World of Product Design

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Or, in this case, products. Practice as an architect long enough, and you’ll feel the impacts of changing economies for better or for worse. For two young architects, a lack of work opportunities during the Recession led to their foray into products, which turned out to be a…