Cube: Chad Oppenheim's Kit-of-Parts Vision for Miami's Future

Miami condominium buyers will get a piece of the design action if this innovator has his way.

January 01, 2008 |

Oppenheim’s Cube. The planned 15-story structure uses a modular approach based on a steel exoskeleton that also permits
five of the glass blocks to be cantilevered from the building. RENDERING: OPPENHEIM ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN

A sk Chad Oppenheim where he got the idea for Cube, the 15-story “kit-of-parts” condo high-rise he's designing for Miami's Design District, and he'll tell you it goes back to his undergraduate days at Cornell.

“For my thesis, I was trying to create a flexible infrastructure, a kind of vertical subdivision, but with more flexibility than in a traditional subdivision,” says the native of rural suburban Holmdel, N.J.

Oppenheim's thesis helped him earn his BArch in 1994, and he eventually went on to form his own Miami-based firm, Oppenheim Architecture & Design, nine years ago. Currently, he and his 35 design colleagues are busy with several billion dollars in high-profile projects: a super-luxury condo-cum-hotel project in Dubai, two Las Vegas hotel/casinos totaling three million sf—the Delano and the Mondrian, both won in a global competition—and the recently completed Ten Museum Park, a 50-story, 200-unit condo, retail, and office complex in downtown Miami.


Cube is one of four projects being pursued by Nexus Development Group in Miami’s Design District, as seen in above rendering. Sale of the 113 condominium units is on hold due to the market downturn. Penthouse and
cantilevered units like the one in thetop image will sell for $800/sf. RENDERING: OPPENHEIM ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN
  The $40 million Cube will feature retail commercial space and parking for 180 vehicles in what designer Chad Oppenheim calls a “vertical subdivision,” based on a “fl exible infrastructure.” RENDERING: OPPENHEIM ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN  
  3D renderings depict the various "cube" configurations. Click to enlarge. RENDERING: OPPENHEIM ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN  

But it is Cube that has aroused the curiosity of the general media and the public to Oppenheim's work.

Some of the thinking behind Cube was sparked by a comment from Ysrael A. Seinuk, the renowned Cuban-born structural engineer, whom Oppenheim had brought in as engineer of record on Ten Museum Park. Oppenheim casually mentioned some problems he was having with the structural aspects of the poured-concrete shear walls for Cube running through the parking structure. Seinuk—“a structural genius,” in Oppenheim's book—suggested putting the “structure” on the exterior of the building, using dynamically braced steel.

“That led me to think of Cube as an exoskeleton,” Oppenheim told Building Design+Construction. “By using steel and precast concrete slabs, the building would weigh a lot less than with poured concrete, and we would be able to build in half the time and a lot cheaper.”

That suggestion stirred Oppenheim to reflect back on his thesis concept of “flexible infrastructure.” What if Cube could be designed as a set of modules instead of as a more traditional, rigidly defined structure? What if the residents themselves could have a say in how those condo modules came together? And what if Cube's users could, in Oppenheim's words, “define their own domain” by connecting two or more modules horizontally or vertically? That would truly begin to fulfill Oppenheim's undergraduate vision of “flexibility by demand.”

Oppenheim's design for Cube calls for a 15-story structure that will allow up to 113 units to be produced off site in 25x25-foot modules and assembled on site as a kit-of-parts. Within certain physical limitations, the preferences of the condo buyers for the number and configuration of their modules will be taken into account in the final design. Five of the modules will be cantilevered from the main structure—their location in the structure had to be locked in to obtain city approval. Oppenheim says he will also create “intentional voids” in the building in order to meet municipal density and FAR restrictions. The modules are expected to run about $600/sf, $800/sf for the penthouse and cantilevered modules.

Oppenheim is using graphisoft's ArchiCAD to design Cube. “We've located everything around the core, so all the mechanical systems are generated from the center of the building,” he says. The $40 million project will have some retail commercial at street level, with about 180 parking spaces.

Cube is only one of three projects in the city's Design District being designed by Oppenheim's firm for Miami's Nexus Development Group. But like many condominium projects in South Florida, Cube has been put on hiatus, a victim of the subprime mortgage crisis and the flight from condo development. Cor, like Cube, has been designed but is in sales limbo, and Casa, which is under construction, has also been put on hold. (A fourth project in the Nexus Development complex, Canvas, is not an Oppenheim design.)

“There's been a lot of mediocre product on the market,” says Oppenheim. “Good product is going to be successful, but it's going to take time to bring housing prices in line with people's financial comfort level.” Despite current market conditions, Oppenheim says he remains “very bullish” on Miami. “This is a city of the future, a tropical urban metropolis,” he says. “Yes, there's a lot Miami could improve on, but it has tremendous potential as an urban center.”

Meanwhile, Oppenheim is hardly letting the grass grow under his feet. His firm recently won a competition to design a green hotel for Barry Sternlicht, chair and CEO of Starwood Capital Group. The new “luxe-eco” hospitality brand, to be called “1” Hotel & Residences, is being developed in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Oppenheim recently completed design development on the prototype, which is expected to roll out in a couple of years.

Robert Cassidy, Editor-in-Chief

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