A Tropical Urban Oasis: How Upper Buena Vista Got it Right



Miami is a beautiful city with it's turquoise ocean and maze of water and bridges. Water inspires everything we do. It shapes our buildings, our road network our cityscape. But rarely do trees, flowers and landscaping influence our design in the same way. Flash forward to Upper Buena Vista-- a one-story retail/restaurant compound which was completely designed around the existing banyan and oak trees on the property.

This project is not just about the simply crafted buildings which are inspired by Thailand, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Tulum, and the fresh and inventive tenants who were carefully curated after being discovered on their social media pages. It's about how the space was carefully designed around the beautiful banyan and oak trees to create a magical oasis in a blighted and derelict neighborhood. Let's see how they did it.


Her Cup Runneth Over:

I don't consider myself a Shakespeare buff, but the subheading is fitting. The tree is peering out from the lots interior and over the building. This could only happen with a one-story building. Not like my neighbor who decided to hack away at all the tree branches to max out his thirty-five foot height limit. These developers understood the magic of the trees and the value of preserving them.

The building street view appears to be almost an extended base of the tree with the wood trimmed exterior and bamboo fencing.


It's Just Around the Corner:

There it is! A big old oak tree. Actually, two big oak trees. The effect is a true oasis. And by the way, there are no gates to close off the project to the street. Anyone can access the beauty of this space at any time.


Nature is Woven Through the Architecture:

The building materials are raw and honest. The overhang is lined with bamboo and the storefront is topped with a wood lattice. Both help to blend the built environment with the natural one. In other words, the buildings and the existing trees look and feel good together.


Multi-level Spaces Offer Different Views:

Multiple levels are connected by stairs and create smaller, intimate spaces and different views to the banyan tree in the background. This is a sophisticated approach to designing common space, especially for such a small project.


Terraces and Ramps:

Even though the small plants were installed after the buildings were constructed, the ramps and terraces feel like they were dropped into the natural landscape. The designer carefully placed green plants against the edges of each manmade piece which tricks us into thinking that the plants were always here and the terraces were built around them.


Here's another view of the same space.



Old Trees Add Instant Ambiance:

Two different views of this oak tree which anchors the lower level. The owners added this semicircular wall as extra seating in a shady spot. And we all know how rare tree shade is these days in Miami.



Humor with Public Art:

The owner also had a sense of humor when selecting these pieces. They contrast to the natural environment and make a statement about the space.


An Invitation to Play and Dream:

The Wishing Tree is the focal point of the entire space. This old banyan was slated to be removed, but the owners made an appeal to the City to keep it. Anyone can write a wish on a ribbon and tie it to the tree. The pop-up artist studio has loads of ribbon and the tree is more and more beautiful as people add their hopes and dreams.

Lesson Learned:

The owners of Upper Buena Vista developed a place for the people who live in the Haitian neighborhood. They helped relocate the people who lived on the site and continue to employ them. People who understand the importance of preserving nature and building around it, understand the value of place and people and preserving neighborhoods. Upper Buena Vista is a special place for everyone.

#miamidesigndistrict #publicart #landscaping #garden

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