AR_EA USA: Brillhart Architecture
Who are you?
Jacob and Melissa Brillhart, principals of Brillhart Architecture, based in Miami, FL.
Where do you come from?
New Hampshire and South Carolina
Why did you become architects?
(Jake) I liked making things from a very early age. My father and I spent hours buildings forts in the woods or building furniture in his workshop. As a kid, I learned how to build things. I visited a friend in the architecture program at Tulane University and thought, this is it? Designing things and making models? I fell in love with architecture right away.
(Melissa) I was always fascinated by the latent beauty of the old barn and house on my grandmother’s farm; the abandoned cotton mills and factories; and the blighted but historic buildings in the West End of my home town (which look quite different now). I attended UVA for undergraduate school. The campus greatly influenced my love for architecture.
What kind of work do you do?
We’re interested in developing a new architecture for the tropics. Our work is strongly connected to the landscape; relies on interpretations of specific vernacular principles which have embedded environmental considerations; and gives architectural primacy to composition, materiality, and the logics of construction.
This general approach is the common thread that links all of our projects together, whether we are working on residential or boutique commercial projects, installations, interiors, furniture, speculative research projects – as well as architectural projects in other regions.
What is it like being an architect where you are?
Miami is only 100 years old. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of the City as comes into its own. It can also be challenging. The codes are stringent because of hurricanes and the bureaucracy can slow things down and add greater stress to projects.
What is the context (social, political, architectural) in which you are working?
Miami is a boom and bust economy. We’re currently in a boom cycle, with a lot of developer driven projects going on, from condos to large scale mixed-use projects. Simultaneously, exciting new civic projects have recently been completed or are underway that will transform the City.
What inspires you these days?
Landscape and the natural world – especially remote outposts on the water. Conversely, the excitement of large, urban dense cities also inspires us. Le Corbusier, Donald Judd, Zumthor, Winslow Homer, and Edward Hopper are also constant sources of inspiration.
What project are you most proud of and why?
Our house. We built it ourselves, so we learned so much in the process.
What is unique about your work?
The work represents a new vernacular, integrating old typologies and building practices with new technologies. The buildings also rest gently on the land.
What is your favourite building material or building technique?
We lean towards wood and steel in most of our projects, but it also depends on the site context and what the local materials are.
How do you get ideas?
Teaching. Travel drawing. The natural characteristics of each project site.
What are your favourite design tools (models, hand drawing, digital 3D modeling, SketchUp, etc.)?
We incorporate a hybrid of analog and digital tools throughout the process, including hand drawing and physical models as well as digital models and renderings.
What would be your ideal project?
Designing our own project in one of those remote outposts.
Where do you hope to go from here?
We’d love to take on smaller institutional or civic projects as well as do more writing.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Designing good buildings. Being good teachers.