TextPhotos Robin Hill
As architect Philip Johnson once intimated, a trusting client can be like a great patron for an architect, allowing them terrific freedoms. In the case of designer Max Strang, the freedom his trusting clients have given him along the way has allowed him to push ideas about what domestic architecture in South Florida can be that much further. This seems to have always been the case with his work, whether in the creation of his own much publicized South Florida residence, the RockHouse, (used in the 2006 filming of Miami Vice) to his designs for RainGarden, a new, multi-family project for Winter Haven. Strang uses each successive project to physically manifest his theories, many of which were born from his early exposure to the Sarasota School of architecture and the Modernist works of Gene Leedy, Paul Rudolph and others who celebrated the Florida climate, creating contemporary structures intimately connected to their surroundings.
We have followed Mr. Strang's career with fascination, and before the publication of Tropic, we followed him through our earlier publication, HOME Miami. The first article we published on his work was back in 2007 and was subtitled "The Evolution of An Environmental Modernist." Since that time, the number of Strang's built projects has grown exponentially. The 44-year old Miami and Telluride-based architect, who had spent his early years working with Gene Leedy and SHoP architects as well as an early internship with Zaha Hadid, won the AIA Miami's highest honor, their Silver Medal, in 2013. But what makes us so excited about his work is that it continues the evolution of a specifically Floridian version of Modernism, one that pays close attention to site and climate and conveys a truth in materials. You won't find any applied foam detailing or beams added for decorative whimsy in Strang's work. This is honest architecture, and never has that been more true than in his latest project, a single family home that sits on the edge of Biscayne Bay.
This long, slender house makes the most of its skinny, waterfront lot without paving over every inch to maximize air conditioned interior space, as so many others have. For these clients, Strang and his office imagined a two-story structure interspersed with interstices that quite literally embrace the setting, turning almost all of its footprint into a celebration of its place. The front entrance, as seen on the cover of this publication, welcomes you through a procession of low, coral stone steps that lead to a two-story high "King Kong" entrance as Strang refers to it, with ipe wood louvered door on the entry level and coordinating louvered window above. The wooden entryway reads as one monumental door when seen from the street against its white stucco backdrop, but in actuality, the guest bedroom above can stay cool and remain private with the use of the coordinating louvers. Past the foyer, one enters the home's living room, which makes clear the indoor/outdoor connection. Facing a sequestered courtyard, this room has pocketing glass doors surmounted by clerestory windows, opening the entire space to the outdoors. Jutting out from this space is the dining room, which is like a little floating pavilion, with glass sliders on opposite sides.
Open these sliders and the dining room in turn opens up to the breezes and a phenomenal, axial view over the sixty-foot lap pool and Biscayne Bay, beyond. Here again Strang weaves in nature, both with a second, two-story courtyard opening that lets sun filter down onto the pool and dining room, but also with a long wall of green and a reintroduction of the natural coral stone first seen at the entry of the home and again in the entertaining spaces.
Off to the other side of the home, past a central stair and elevator hall, the informal areas of the home begin. A wall of glass connects the open plan kitchen and family room to the pool and an outdoor dining room, shaded by the structure of the master bedroom suite just above. Again, the architect punches a hole through what might have been a balcony in any other designer's plans, allowing sun to stream through over the pool there as well. Strang captures "lost" balcony space by cantilevering a glass-railed balcony over the terrace space giving the owners the choice of full sun or shade on both the upper balcony or lower terrace.
Continuing upstairs, a home office sits atop the dining room, and is fitted with windows on both sides for cross-ventilation. The design's ingenuity allows for four bedrooms plus the home office, with each of the bedrooms equipped with its own en-suite bathroom.
The home's ingenious layering of an "E" shaped plan on the second level over an "F" shaped plan on the first allows all of these spaces to have their own special identity and relationship to the whole, connecting interiors to the green of the courtyards, the shimmer of the pool or the serenity of the Bay at every turn. For Strang, and a handful of other talented Florida architects, it's often not what you add to a plan but what you take away. What many would see as lost square footage, Strang seems to see as vital to the creation of an exceptional home connected again and again to its particular place.
As an environmental Modernist, the architect has rid the residence of the superfluous. Stair railings become sheets of glass, walls of curtains tuck neatly into a recess in the ceiling and detailing – only where needed – is always in natural materials. The result it a timelessness and a connection to place that makes Strang's work so perfectly for South Florida.