A Grand Entrance

Oct. 1, 2003
Robert Nieminen

A Grand Entrance

When RTKL Associates, Inc. was commissioned to design the public spaces of Murano at Portofino, a 209-unit luxury condominium on South Beach, FL, the goal was to create architectural interior public spaces to fit the grandeur of the building's dynamic, contemporary lines. This consisted of designing the entrance lobby, the elevator lobbies, a spa/workout facility and a conference room accessible to both the sales staff and residents.The use of rich finishes, furniture and artwork accentuate the building's name, "Murano," and reflect its premium location on South Beach. RTKL designers also sought to create environments within the grand spaces that are intimate and comfortable for the residents' daily use. "We wanted to create a monumental space that is not overwhelming, that still gives a sense of home and place," says Diane Stratton, project director for RTKL.Upon entry to the building, one immediately steps into an immense, three-story lobby in which a floor-to-ceiling, curved canting wall is imposing, yet envelopes the entire space. The focal point of the project, the lobby creates a sense of arrival for the residents and their guests and also serves as the starting point of a procession to other more intimately-scaled spaces. A minimal amount of furniture is placed to each side of the lobby to focus attention on the architectural importance of the space and the prominently placed feature elements. Framing a sleek reception desk is a pair of three-foot diameter columns clad in rich, dark mahogany and niches filled with a collection of brightly-colored Murano-inspired, hand-blown glass artifacts. According to Stratton, the two columns were actually a solution to a design challenge the team faced with the building's original construction that featured a structural column right in the center of the lobby space. "To achieve the circular, centrally focused lobby, we had to work with the architect and engineers to have the column moved," Stratton explains. The team achieved this by using two columns and a large traverse beam. The result is the lobby's curving form, a "direct response to the curving forms of the building's architecture," says Stratton.Another challenge the RTKL team faced was the integration of the smoke evacuation/HVAC system into the design detailing. The large circular fin detail at the ceiling actually hides the air supply and return for the space, and the contemporary stainless steel fins attached to the mahogany wood panels that flank the reception desk disguise two enormous smoke EVAC chases." Lighting was also important to illuminate the volume of the lobby to achieve a warmness and sparkle," Stratton points out, "remembering the human sensibility for scale and place." Looming prominently overhead in the lobby is a custom-made, 12-foot diameter chandelier. Radiating around a central cone of the chandelier are spokes of dichroic glass, which capture and reflect a crystal-inspired rainbow of colors on both the ceiling and floor. Stratton also points out that the multi-colored shadows cast by the light fixture/sculpture change appearances from day to night as the natural light in the space changes. Featured at the center of the lobby is a deep green terrazzo floor embedded with bronze fossils that may be found in the ocean shores, and flowing between the hand cast fossils are iridescent particles of mother of pearl. The central feature floor was designed by artist Michele Oka Donner to relate to the South Florida beaches and to the waters around Murano. The aquatic theme is further carried out in the design team's selection of carpeting. "We custom designed the carpet that spreads from the lobby to the adjacent spaces to look like ripples of water with the turquoise colors of the Caribbean ocean," Stratton says.The design team also sought to create environments within the grand spaces that are intimate and comfortable for the residents' daily use. The use of watery green and blue colors creates a comfortable backdrop in which residents can relax. In the centrally located conference area are waves of custom designed Axminster carpet, rippling glass panels that allow a glimpse of shadowy elements within, and 10-foot-high mahogany doors. Vignettes of seating nestle against floor-to-ceiling windows covered in flowing drapery. The two-story spa/fitness center is a dynamic space which features two comfortable seating areas, a game table and billiards on the first level, and the exercise/equipment room at the upper level—both floors overlooking the grand view outside from the expansive, 20-foot high windows. According to Stratton, the gold, green and periwinkle colors used in the spa/fitness center are "bold, but relaxing because they continue the theme of reflecting the colors of the natural surroundings seen out the expanse of the floor-to-ceiling windows."While sophisticated and contemporary, the interior experiences are understated and elegant, and the color and material palette complement the property's waterfront location, its architectural form and the international heritage of its residents.

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