Developers bet on ‘starchitects’ to stand out


By Peter Zalewski


With 174 condo towers proposed across South Florida, developers are scrambling to distinguish their projects from all the others — and one of the most popular ways is “starchitecture.”

Starchitecture is a design by a “star” architect, someone who has a reputation for innovation, an armload of awards — or both. Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels, for example, is the creative force behind Grove at Grand Bay, a luxury development by Terra Group. The Wall Street Journal’s 2011 Innovator of the Year for architecture, the 39-year-old Ingels and his team are the design minds behind what the Grove’s website calls “its twisting, dancing glass towers” that provide incredible views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline.

Miami-based Chad Oppenheim has done Cube, a high-rise that lets buyers customize their homes by connecting modules in just about any way they want to, as well as the posh 400 Sunny Isles and the Campus Center, a mixed-use project that includes residences, a hotel and commercial space.

And Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s most distinguished award, is building One Thousand Museum Tower, a 60-story eye-popper that will include a helipad.

The emergence of starchitecture is changing the region’s real estate scene. Today, investors are as interested in who designed a property — a starchitect — as they are by where it’s at — the waterfront, for example.

What caused this phenomenon? More sophisticated buyers? Savvier developers? A case could be made for both. It also could just be the natural evolution of condo construction — the newest fad, the latest thing.

Consider, though, the roots of starchitecture could be in the 2008 housing collapse. Lenders are more tight-fisted these days. Construction loans are harder to come by. Buyers are the financiers, putting down 50 percent deposits instead of the old standard of 20 percent. And developers need an arsenal of selling points to attract investors so that they can start their projects. Their newest is cutting-edge design by the world’s greatest architects.

Yes, starchitecture could be the very reason why luxury condos are going up at all.

How long, though, will the trend of architecture last? Who is a “starchitect” and will projects by lesser-knowns dilute the appeal to buyers? How much does it add to the overall cost of a unit? Is a home designed by a starchitect really that much better or different?

Developers and starchitects themselves will be discussing those questions and many more Thursday at a roundtable sponsored by The Real Deal. I’ll be the moderator for the panel discussion, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at Grove at Grand Bay, 2669 S. Bayshore Drive in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. A cocktail reception starts at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 9 p.m.

Slated to speak are Ingels and Oppenheim along with David Martin of Terra Group. Mayi de la Vega of One Sotheby’s International Realty and Esther Percal of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell will be on hand to talk about what they are hearing from buyers.

Space is limited, so reserve your seat today at

Peter Zalewski is real estate columnist for The Real Deal who founded Condo Vultures LLC, a consultancy and publishing company, as well as Condo Vultures Realty LLC and CVR Realty brokerages and the Condo Ratings Agency, an analytics firm. The Condo Ratings Agency operates, a preconstruction condo projects website, in conjunction with the Miami Association of Realtors.

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