Editor’s Note: Preservation Miami is excited to launch ‘Perspectives on Preservation’, a new periodical that will feature the viewpoints of different individuals throughout the Miami-Dade community as they relate to Historic Preservation.
Born in Miami, Florida, local architectural designer Ernesto Fabre spent most of his youth living in Bogota, Colombia. After completing his studies in architecture in Bogota and historic preservation in New York City, Ernesto has called Coral Gables his home for the past twenty years where he also keeps a small studio focusing on residential remodels and preservation consulting.
What drew you to Architecture and Historic Preservation?
“After graduating from high school in Bogota, I really didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to do. I stayed in Bogota and started a degree in business but, after two years, took a six month break to help run a copy and printing shop. My girlfriend at the time was studying architecture and I truly enjoyed helping her with homework and on various projects. When it came time to return to my studies, I quickly changed my major to architecture. During those five years, I was drawn to explore the history of architecture so I could better form my own expression while taking into account the lessons of the past. I had some preconceived misgivings with self-centered design and the lack of contextualism in many modern cities. A few years after completing the degree, I moved to New York where I decided to take on a two year study in Historic Preservation with concentrations in design and materials. I felt that with this knowledge I could better contribute to the “collective memory” of our built environment and eventually take on projects with more design confidence, and possibly develop my own aesthetic.”
Do you apply any “green” concepts to your work?
“Preserving a structure is in itself a “green” gesture. Any time one remodels, the amount of energy expended is usually less than tearing down and starting from scratch. In general, almost all interventions in historic structures and even more recent homes demand an improvement to the efficiencies in the home so electricity, water, and air quality and delivery thereof are optimized.
We must remember that many of the older homes were designed with no air conditioning, lots of cross ventilation, and the general use of shade from trees was the norm. In contrast, today there are many more opportunities to create efficiencies starting with better insulations in walls and ceilings, instant water heaters, rain collection systems, solar panels, and sustainable building materials to mention a few. Further, there is a great plethora of products that can be used that have low carbon footprints or are not toxic, from salvaged woods to no VOC paints. Ultimately one would aspire to incorporate design features and techniques that will make the residence less reliant on ‘the grid’; to be self-sufficient.
While on the subject, I would be remised if I did not highlight the importance of incorporating native plant species and encouraging the use of edible gardens within landscape design of residential properties.”
Where do you draw the line between upgrading an older structure and maintaining the authenticity of the architecture?
“I tend to leave as much untouched as possible. Most of the older homes in Miami have plaster and lath interiors which are often costly to replicate and more often than not the patron is unwilling to expend for the sake of authenticity. A room can often be left intact if one considers the nominal amount of efficiencies achieved by replacing a bunch of plaster and lath walls with sheetrock and insulation.
As a more specific example, in the case of window replacements, in recent years one has seen a great amount of effort from manufacturers in bringing to market good design with great energy efficiencies. With that said, Would I replace an original casement window with a new one? Probably not. There is nothing that can compare to the look of an original window in an old home. The replacement window will most always looks out of place. How can I justify this from an efficiency point of view? Sometimes retrofitting the original windows with better glass, better paints, insulation strips, and using awnings and tree shade helps make the decision easier, not to mention the cost savings.
The question is more pertinent when looking at the value and character of exteriors and the character and use of interior spaces. Most often an exterior that is part of a streetscape requires careful attention to the context. Additions should complement, not compete, and that is where good design comes in. On the inside, common spaces and functioning rooms like kitchens and bathrooms usually need upgrades but often can maintain their original intent and expression if done carefully and tastefully. On the other hand, lesser designed spaces could be upgraded with less regard to the original materials.”
Have you ever been challenged in deciding on the use of an upgrade and the architectural integrity of the preservation project?
“Constantly. Usually the client calls the shots and I have to sell them on the idea of keeping the moldings and baseboards, or having blades cut to replicate the original moldings so there can be a seamless transition between new an older spaces.
I get lots of satisfaction when AC systems are installed without soffits, or clients are convinced of the value of restoring old hardware and doors and windows.”
Do you believe Coral Gables is doing a good job from a preservation perspective?
“I feel much more can be done. The whole of Coral Gables was conceived as a garden city and, as such, it should all be designated historic. The intent to designate street by street is useful but it leaves lots of great streets and properties unprotected. By imposing the additional layer on the whole of the city, the level and quality of design would be enhanced.
The preservation department should be given a greater toolset and stronger voice. The mindset of the original designers- Merrick, Paist, Fink, DeGarmo, Steward, Skinner brothers- should all be part of the obligatory study for anyone involved in making design decisions in the city. Building on these foundations, the Preservation Department should create and provide all available resources in helping homeowners understand the intricacies in renovating, maintaining, and upgrading their historic properties as well as to help solve technical issues as they arise.
The Board of Architects and the Preservation Board should be on the same page and be bound to uphold the intent of the original designers. Not that modern or personal design should be discouraged; on the contrary, they should be promoted where it would lend itself contextually.
Coral Gables is truly admired and recognized for its trees and urban layout. As we continue moving forward for decades to come, Coral Gables should consistently embrace new opportunities in serving as a model for other cities and communities as it relates to the management of its built environment; this, requiring due diligence of our citizens and leaders to advocate for and promote better design with less political and corporate interference.”
If you would like to contact Ernesto Fabre for further information or questions, please send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org website: http://www.FabreDesigns.com