Laurinda Spear and daughter Marisa Fort. Photo by Gary James.
The lecture Arquitectonica ‘Multitasking: Architecture Against the Gauntlet’ featuring Laurinda Spear and Marisa Fort, was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, July 18, 2012, presented in partnership with Chicago Women in Architecture, and held in conjunction with the current exhibition Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity.
Laurinda Spear studied fine arts at Brown University, received her Master of Architecture from Columbia University and later a Master of Landscape Architecture from Florida International University.
Marisa Fort received her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from Barnard College in 2002 and a Master in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 2006.
It was a conscious decision on Laurinda Spear’s part to begin her lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago with a brief discussion of Durga, the invincible Hindu goddess with many arms. This symbol of feminine power depicts fearlessness, patience, and compassion. In addition, Durga is a great multitasker: she can ride a lion, carry weapons, hold a lotus flower, and maintain a meditative smile, all while practicing symbolic hand gestures.
Laurinda Spear rides that lion alongside Durga. Just as savvy, but without the lotus flower, Ms. Spear is an architect, designer, entrepreneur, landscape architect, and mother. In 1977 she founded the award-winning architectural firm
Arquitectonica with her husband Bernardo Fort-Brescia in Miami. Soon after, their structures were used as sets for the popular television series Miami Vice. Today, they claim offices in 13 locations worldwide with a staff of 400. Projects are located in the United States, Philippines, China, Peru, Singapore, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Japan, Spain, Luxembourg, and other countries.
Ms. Spear has founded both ArquitectonicaInteriors and ArquitectonicaGEO that add the practices of Interior Design and
Landscape Architecture to the firm. She also established Laurinda Spear Products that features 150 products including accessories (scarves, ties, watches, jewelry, surfboards), furniture (chairs, benches, desks, beds), and architectural products (lighting, hardware, glass panels, wallcovering, laminates, signage, textiles).
A highlight of her lecture was the inaugural appearance of Laurinda’s architect daughter Marisa Fort as co-presenter. These two women had a commanding stage presence with their long tresses, stylish black attire, and statuesque frames (think Jerry Hall and Ivanka Trump). Their featured projects conveyed intelligence, creativity, business acumen, and community concern, and were classified into six categories: Total Integration, Gauntlet, Diamond in the Rough, Outside In (Internal), Inside Out (External), and Repurposing.
Total Integration Projects have multi-programming uses involved within a project. For example, the Dijon District Master Plan in Dijon, France, has Performing Arts Center, Opera House, and Conference Centers. The Banque De Luxembourg consists of an expansion mostly underground so that the tallest part of the building will blend with the historic surrounds.
Gauntlet Projects consist of approvals and constraints: how do ‘this and that’ co-exist? Examples of this type of project are
La Jolla in Lima, Peru, which consists of luxury beach homes and condos, and also the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Miami. Projects dealing extensively with zoning commissions and governments generally fall into this category.
Diamond in the Rough Projects elevate neglected neighborhoods. The Bronx Museum of Arts, South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, and Biscayne Landing in Miami serve as examples.
Outside In Projects provide nature or green energy to a space. Puerto Triana in Seville, Spain, produces 20% of its own energy. Ballet Valet in Miami Beach has completely natural green facades. With Arquitectonica’s global headquarters in Miami,
windows are a highlight—one pattern is rotated throughout—and brings the outside in. They also have a communal vegetable garden within their space.
Inside Out Projects have a limited program with restrictions and thus the exterior is given importance. The Westin Hotel in New York consists of 5 colors in the interior space, and that palette goes outside and is featured on the exterior façade. The
U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, features graphics and 3,000-year-old Peruvian textile patterns on the exterior of the building.
Repurposing Projects renew, reuse, and recycle. Savannah College of Art & Design expanded into a space that was occupied by IXL Corporation. Most of the interiors were reused with minimal planning changes. Al Manhal in Abu Dhabi respects the history of a former palace that has been transformed into a National History Museum and Botanical Institute.
When asked how Arquitectonica deals with budget in all of their projects, Ms. Spear stated that this is a gauntlet issue; they rely on the local contractors to provide bids based on budgets and then maintain those budgets. Of all the project scopes within their office (small buildings, high rises, urban planning) Marisa’s favorites are those based in Miami as it allows her to stay close to home. Laurinda’s favorite project scope? Designing anything!
I’ve been a fan of Laurinda Spear since the early 1980s when I had a career in interior architecture in Chicago. She has always been and continues to be an inspiration to me. Post lecture it was an honor to have the opportunity to interview
Laurinda and Marisa; both epitomize warmth, grace, intelligence, creativity and style. The following is a recap of that interview:
Q: Who is your favorite architect, living or deceased?
A: (LS) That’s a tough one. There are many. I would say Frank Lloyd Wright. We are staying in Oak Park and have taken in a lot of his architecture. (KW) Have you read Loving Frank? (LS) Of course! That spurred the trip to Taliesin.
A: (MF) That’s a tough one for me also. There have been many great architecture professors.
Q: How did you maintain your career position once you became a mother?
A: (LS) Architecture is a great field for women. It is slow and allows for dipping. You can move in and out as your family requirements are met. I am glad that my daughter is in architecture vs. medicine. I have two sons in medical school but I think that would be very difficult for a woman. (KW) How many children do you have? (LS) Six plus one adopted.
A: (MF) I have a one-year-old and am anxious to get back tonight!
Q: How did your parents foster your creativity?
A: (MF) It’s obvious! Just look who my parents are: my dad and his sandcastles, my mom’s Christmas ornaments. We would
play with the electric erasers. The older kids got to travel all over the world. We would go on road trips and just absorb
all of the surroundings along the way.
A: (LS) My mother was influenced by the president at Radcliffe. She fostered intellectual life. She advised me not to settle for being a housewife and mother. As my father was a doctor, medicine and architecture were noble professions. When I decided to pursue architecture they were both pleased with my decision.
Q: What was your first break in the architecture field?
A: (LS) It was when I was still in school working with Rem Koolhaas on the Spear House, Miami.
A: (MF) I worked with my parents at the conceptual office in Cambridge, MA, after graduating from Harvard.
Q: Have you had the opportunity to meet Chicago’s Jeanne Gang?
A: (LS) No we have not, but we saw the Aqua Building today and really liked it!
Article by Kathleen Waterloo.
Kathleen had an 18-year career in interior architecture in Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts
from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1996 and is currently an artist in Chicago.