BIG's Mixed-Use Marina Lofts in Fort Lauderdale

Written by 

Marina Lofts, a new mixed-use development by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), will enliven a formerly industrial site along the waterfront in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

BIG's Mixed-Use Marina Lofts in Fort Lauderdale Image courtesy of BIG

When modern architecture and the state of Florida come to mind, Miami and Miami Beach are the uncontested hot beds of activity by internationally acclaimed architects. However, Fort Lauderdale might someday vie for the spotlight. Cymbal Development recently engaged Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to design Marina Lofts, a new mixed-use development on a formerly industrial area along the canal in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The project will establish pedestrian-friendly public spaces in line with the city’s master plan and goals to transform the New River front to live up to its nickname as the “Venice of America.”

Marina Lofts

“I’ve been both surprised and thrilled with the international flavor of South Florida,” shared Kai-Uwe Bergmann, Partner at BIG. His firm has designed Coconut Grove, a luxury condo development in Miami, but the new Marina Lofts project provides an affordable counterpoint. It will offer 1,000 rental apartments, including studio and small one-bedroom layouts intended for single young professionals and small families. The ground-floor plane will accommodate 10,000 square feet of restaurant space and 25,000 square feet of retail.

Acknowledged Bergmann, “One thousand units is a very large proposition, so we’ve made sure the actual massing of the project isn’t one large building.” BIG distributed the development’s program throughout two masses. The form of the larger of the two towers bends to preserve views of the canal from nearby residential projects. The units themselves are conceived as individual “bricks” that create a running bond pattern across the towers’ surfaces. Although they might appear to be structural, the “bricks” don’t represent an actual construction technique and will not be prefab, according to Bergmann.

Marina Lofts Marina Lofts

To further break down the larger tower’s massing, certain “bricks” are subtracted at the bend to create a large “crack,” permitting public access to the waterfront. The crack also allows the designers to create terraces on the rooftops of some units so “it becomes a very social space, where you can interact across terraces with neighbors,” explained Bergmann. He mentioned that it echoes a similar design strategy used by BIG for the VM Houses in Copenhagen, which feature jutting triangular balconies. The terraces at Marina Lofts will be planted with lush greenery, but the sides of the units facing into the crack will be solid to maintain privacy. Instead, the units will command views of the canal and the city from the opposite side.

Just as the Marina Lofts development defines its own internal, vertical landscape, the project will also incorporate a public promenade that extends the city’s Riverwalk, which currently dies out at the industrial site. An existing yacht storage facility will be preserved and continue to operate throughout construction. The smaller tower will straddle it and maintain access from both the water and land. An existing water taxi station will also remain, enhanced by the additions of shading structures and permanent pavilions. The landscaping plan, which is still being designed, will provide open green space that will be activated by the new restaurant and retail functions with the tower’s bases.

Marina Lofts Marina Lofts

The plan also includes the relocation an 80-year-old Champion Rain Tree, the largest in the state and a community icon, from its current location nearby behind a fence on private property to a prominent and accessible location on the promenade. However, this aspect of the project has met with some controversy, and a group of community members is concerned that the tree won’t survive the move and has petitioned against it. The project team has engaged an arborist to confirm that it can safely withstand relocation, but, in case it does not, the developer has issued a million dollar bond that would transfer to the community.

While the tree represents the city’s past, the Marina Lofts development hints at its future as a revitalized waterfront community. Bergmann views the project as “a catalyst for change along the river,” and the President-elect of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA, seems to agree. She was recently quoted by the Sun-Sentinel, saying “This is a real opportunity for transformation. This could be the catalyst for other projects that are of a higher design quality."

Currently, the Marina Lofts project is in the Entitlement Phase, common for development projects in South Florida. Until it gains approval, Bergmann says it’s too soon to pin down a construction start date. Stay tuned for updates from

Murrye Bernard

Murrye is a freelance writer based in New York City. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the University of Arkansas and is a LEED-accredited professional. Her work has been published in Architectural Record, Eco-Structure, and Architectural Lighting, among others. She also serves as a contributing editor for the American Institute of Architects' New York Chapter publication, eOculus.

blog comments powered by Disqus