Multipurpose Monuments

22 Mar, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Miami professor uses VectorWorks to create landmarks that could save lives

If you ever need to evacuate Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty can’t help you. The Golden Gate Bridge might facilitate departure from San Francisco, but if you’re looking for a good time on a Friday night, don’t count on that piece of red metal to tell you if the Rolling Stones are playing in SBC Park.

Roberto Rovira, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Florida International University’s School of Architecture, has an idea for a Miami landmark that can do what Lady Liberty and the Golden Gate can’t.

Rovira’s award-winning proposal to the Miami Monument Committee is to build three towering, solar-powered structures, dubbed Miami Sunspars. Inspired by the shape of leaves on a palm frond, they’ll be planted at various intervals along a canal, locally known as the Government Cut.

The Miami Sunspars would serve as observation towers when standing upright. In horizontal configuration, they would become emergency evacuation bridges.

Upright, the Sunspars function as observatory towers, giving a spectacular view of the skyline from 2,000 feet. The vertical media bar embedded into each tower can broadcast weather reports, civic announcements and entertainment events. During hurricanes and other emergencies, they can be lowered into horizontal positions, becoming evacuation foot bridges connecting downtown Miami, Watson Island, Port Authority and South Beach.

Positioned in strategic places along the city’s waterfront, Rovira’s Miami Sunspars could metaphorically and literally link different parts of the city.

Vibrant Landscape, Adaptive Architecture

In his concept statement to the Miami Monument Committee, Rovira observes, “The crossroads [ Miami] embodies transcends physical place, embracing transformation as its constant, making predictions all but futile. ... Life confronts daily, as does the occasional and unquestionable authority of an impending storm, reminding everyone that resilience is perhaps the only other quality running as reliably as the self-energizing certainty of change in Miami.” Grounded in this wisdom, Rovira designed adaptive structures that wholeheartedly embrace the city’s regenerative energy.

“I’m a landscape architect, and my undergraduate degree is in engineering,” says Rovira, “so I’m always interested in projects where I have an opportunity to integrate architecture with landscape.” On this project, Rovira used VectorWorks Fundamentals from Nemetschek North America, SketchUp from Google (formerly @Last Software) and Adobe Creative Suite from Adobe Software.

One-Two Punch

“The canal is essentially where the cruise liners come in,” Rovira observes. “This is the first impression people get when they enter Miami from the sea.” To identify locations for the Sunspars and to study their impact on the site, he imported aerial photos into VectorWorks and superimposed his designs onto the landscape.

Working simultaneously in VectorWorks Fundamentals and SketchUp allows Rovira to move preliminary designs back and forth between VectorWorks and SketchUp for quick 3D exploration. He calls the process “a one-two punch.” Nemetschek offers a free SketchUp plug-in for VectorWorks Architect, VectorWorks Landmark and VectorWorks Spotlight. The utility can translate SketchUp model geometry and components into VectorWorks floors, walls, roofs and symbols. This allows the user to later replace the original SketchUp objects with intelligent VectorWorks objects and continue refining the design.

“There are many repetitive elements in the structure,” says Rovira, “so to be able to do the modification through [VectorWorks’] symbol-editing interface is very helpful and efficient.” From the symbol-editing interface, Rovira was able to make modifications on an individual architectural element and implement global changes through the design.

Soaking Up the Sun, Lighting Up the Shell

Similarity between the Sunspars and palm fronds is not limited to shapes alone. Rovira plans to outfit the towers with solar panels so they absorb Miami’s abundant sunlight to become self-sustainable, much in the same way palm leaves thrive in the tropical climate. When the project reaches this phase, he’ll use VectorWorks’ built-in sun-angle analysis tools to figure out the best orientations for the Sunspars’ photovoltaic panels.

For the streaming media bar, Rovira has identified GKD Metal Fabric’s Illumesh as the best choice of material. “Illumesh,” according to GKD, “is a patented process for illuminating the surface of our fabric products through the use of LEDs. Mounted forward of the woven fabric and projecting onto its reflective stainless steel, [the LEDs make it] possible to wash an entire surface in color. Creative programming through a Web-based interface makes it possible to create infinite variations of colors, motion and even imagery.”

Help the Sunspars Grow

Rovira’s design was the winning entry for the Miami Monument Competition, an international contest cosponsored by AIA-Miami and Spine3D. Soon after he collected that prize, he won the Kauffman Professors Competition and was awarded a grant from The Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University. The additional funding will help Rovira conduct feasibility studies on applying the design principles from the London Eye and its capsule-style loading mechanism to the Miami Sunspars. It’ll also help him understand the process by which an idea from an international design competition, such as the London Eye, gets public and private support for implementation.

Rovira’s idea has generated such interest that he is exploring funding opportunities to further develop the proposal and generate 3D models of the concept. He welcomes anyone who might be interested in helping him grow the Sunspars: E-mail him at And suppose, for sheer effect, you want to involve a famous Miami landmark in your marriage proposal. Rovira is willing to entertain the possibility of flashing the words “Marry me, Lola!” — or Jenny, or Sandy, or whoever — onto one of his giant palm fronds.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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