Sky Lounge transforms DM courtyard into sanctuary for university community


Sky Lounge 1

Photo by Kristen Rubio

It didn’t take long for Jose Alvarez to get his wish. In fact, he probably could have used a little more time.

In his very first week of taking classes at FIU in pursuit of an MLA in landscape architecture, he was stunned when asked, along with others in his program, to design a space for the university and present his plans to President Mark B. Rosenberg. At the time, he had no idea what to do or what would happen next.

Three years later, Alvarez was standing in the middle of the project he helped create: Sky Lounge – which transformed the oft-neglected Deuxieme Maison (DM) courtyard into a sanctuary for the university community.A

“It all starts with one drawing, one idea, and then all of a sudden you have a complete transformation of the space,” said Alvarez, who graduated in the spring. “It’s really awesome to see and it’s really breathtaking to see the final product.”

Alvarez was one member of a team of four students led by associate professor and landscape architecture chair Roberto Rovira. The team was charged with designing the space and creating an atmosphere that is unlike any on campus.

The final product, which was revealed June 13 in the Sky Lounge’s inauguration ceremony, accomplished just that.

“I don’t have to tell you what a transformation this,” Rosenberg said in his remarks. “I don’t think it’s ever looked as good as it does today.”

Senior Vice President of External Relations Sandra Gonzalez-Levy added, “This has been the result of a lot of people and their hard work and persistence. It’s an incredible change and transformation for this courtyard.”

For Alvarez, who worked alongside Rovira and fellow students Luis Jimenez, Martina Gonzalez and Mario Menendez on the project’s design, it was about creating a place that would attract people  away from the hustle and bustle of the campus.

“There aren’t that many spaces for students to really go on campus to relax and study and interact away from everything else,” said Alvarez. “It feels like a sanctuary for students, where you can sit back and look at living art, something that’s constantly growing and changing.”

A COLLABORATIVE EFFORT

The project to rejuvenate DM’s courtyard began in 2010, when a design charrette – spearheaded by Gonzalez-Levy – brought together architecture, landscape, and interior design students. They were asked to come up with renovation plans for several locations around Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Ultimately, the DM courtyard was chosen as the space with the biggest need for an upgrade.

With help from architectural and engineering firm MC Harry & Associates and Stobs Brothers Construction, both based in Miami, the designs for Sky Lounge were drawn up and brought to life.

“I hope that Sky Lounge demonstrates the power of design,” Rovira said. “Particularly the power of landscape architecture, which is about strong visions and bold ideas.”

For Rosenberg, the completion of the Sky Lounge is a realization of what the charrette initially set out to accomplish.

“It allows our students, working with our faculty, to put our creativity to work to improve our environment,” Rosenberg said. “This is the realization of that and this is going to be a model for other courtyards.”

LEAVING A MARK

The DM building was designed in an architectural style known as brutalism, which relies on heavy concrete and dramatic volumes. With Sky Lounge, Rovira’s team attempted to contrast the building’s austerity with a certain “lightness.”

They sought to accomplish that goal with three stainless steel nets that hang from the courtyard’s ceiling. The nets are covered with more than 3,000 air plants and a new trellis system, which features a blue-flowering vine that will eventually cover up the first two floors of the building.

The structures above complement the new ground floor of the courtyard, which is covered with tiny flecks of recycled blue glass, and features custom-designed steel lounge chairs that pop against the deep-blue floor.

“It’s great to see something that we started drawing a couple years ago turn into such a nice public space,” said Jimenez, who graduated in 2011 with an MLA in landscape architecture. “The most rewarding part is seeing people use this space. Before, people would neglect this place and now it’s become a destination for every student on campus.”

For the students involved, Sky Lounge provided them with a chance to leave their mark at FIU long after they’re gone.

“Not many students in design, at any school, get the opportunity to participate in a project that goes from an idea, a drawing, to a completed masterpiece,” Alvarez said. “I really couldn’t think of a better place to complete a project and leave a legacy than FIU.”

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