(Vertical House Miró Rivera Architects. Photo: Juan Miró)
Miró Rivera Architects is an internationally recognized practice that blurs art and architecture in design approach. Principal Juan Miró was born in Barcelona where he obtained his professional degree, before earning a Fulbright Scholarship to complete a post-professional Master’s degree at Yale University. Juan worked for Gwathmey Siegal and Associates in New York, and in Spain for his father, Antonio Miró and Santiago Calatrava before forming Miró Rivera Architects in 2000. Juan is a Professor at the School of Architecture of the University of Texas at Austin, and in 2011 was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows in recognition of his contributions to the profession.
Principal Miguel Rivera was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture, before earning his Master of Architecture from Columbia University, in New York. An active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Texas Society of Architects (TSA), in 2005 Miguel was awarded the AIA National Young Architect Award, and in 2014 he was elevated to the College of Fellows. He has served on numerous design awards juries and lectured at universities in across the USA, in Mexico and Germany. Prior to forming Miró Rivera Architects he was an associate at Mitchell/Giurgola Architects in New York.
MA: “We’d like to know more about the challenges in designing the focal point, the Observation Tower at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), for which your firm has won numerous awards.
Miguel: “This was so interesting. Formula One is an international event, it’s global, not Texan, with people coming from all over the world to attend the races. The challenge was to strive for authenticity. The tower did not need to look as though it belonged in Dubai, or Spain, or India or Brazil, but here in Austin, Texas, but we needed to avoid creating a structure simply stamped with the star of Texas, something that might look fake or if it belonged in Las Vegas.”
MA: “Where did you start on this project?”
Miguel: “To begin with we looked at the cars, the race cars themselves, which are the most dynamic, precise and sophisticated machines, rather like rockets or spaceships on the ground. We had to make the tower relevant to the city and the location but avoid the cliché of a limestone ranch with a metal roof, yet we needed to deal with the sun and shade when creating a trellis, and create an architectural vocabulary that is reflective of a sophisticated, advanced, contemporary Austin that is ready for attention, a city that is seen in an international worldview.”
MA: “How does your background inform your design process?”
Miguel: “In Austin, there are similarities to my native Puerto Rico, in dealing with nature and the natural environment, in that we must address the sun, heat, and light, and a mostly evergreen landscape. Like Puerto Rico, Austin is an open city with a cultural mix and this fosters innovation and design. There’s a high level of design innovation here as well as graphic design, something that is almost taken for granted. A cultural mix and cultural differences do not mean that things are better, just different. I like the idea that if you have an instrument, and can play, you can play in Austin. The doors are not closed.”
MA: “When we requested an interview it was difficult to find both you and Juan in the same place, at the same time, as you are very busy. Juan said that you would speak for the firm. “Whatever Miguel says is fine,” he said. You must work very closely together?”
Miguel: “Yes, we share similar perspectives. Both of us are willing to look beyond Austin and regional architecture for inspiration, and to seek out a broader vocabulary and that is revealed in our work. We share an openness in approach, like looking at new materials that we see in our travels, and exploring new ways of putting things together. We come from different places but reflect one another.”
MA: “We asked Juan to speak to how teaching impacts his work, and this is what he said. ‘Teaching makes me more aware of my own work. As a practitioner, it is very easy to be caught up in the day to day of running the office. So, being an instructor affords the opportunity to pause, to reflect on how things are done, the ideas, the process, and more importantly being a teacher puts you on a path of constant learning: you learn from your students, from colleagues, from the activities that take place at school, from preparing classes and being up to date with what is going on in the profession. I also think students benefit from having teachers that are practitioners. So it is definitely a two-way street.’ His words imply a great deal of ‘care’.”
Miguel: “Architects must care. They care about making places better. They must care about people. They must fight obstacles and often have to compromise. I admire anyone who is trying to make things better. My father was a contractor and working with him I learned his rule, which is very simple, ‘people do better around nice people’. When we work with clients we must care about all the influences, the site, the budget, the family size, all these things must be given consideration before we decide what the building is going to look like. There are so many ways to do the same thing, something I learned at a summer program at Cornell when I was surrounded by people from all over the world with different attitudes and perspectives. We want to avoid mediocrity, so often the result of consensus, so we must care about how a building works and then about how it looks, otherwise we are only addressing a façade.”
(Lakeshore Residence Miró Rivera Architects. Photo: Paul Finkel Piston Design)
MA: “Are there any architects whose work inspired you?”
Miguel: “I appreciate the American vocabulary that Frank Lloyd Wright tried to create and the impeccable craftsmanship and scale of this work. I also like Corbusier and his proportions, and the functional but not decorative work of Louis Kahn.”
MA: “Your work includes renovation as well as new construction. What are your thoughts about preservation?”
(Miró Rivera Architects. Staff at the Miró Rivera Restroom on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Left to right: Juan Miró (Pepe Miró in his arms), Taylor Odell, Michael Hsu, Miguel Rivera, Ken Jones, Matt Sturich (front), Nick Steshyn (back), Nikki Markim, Karen Vilches, Melissa Hargis-Villanueva, Stuart Yancey, Brooks Cavender, Carlos Garcia, Rosa Rivera, Nate Schneider, Bud Franck, Becky Agosto (not pictured))
Miguel: “We often have to convince clients that who want to start out on a new lot that the existing home is priceless and should be preserved, that the character of the house, beyond the façade, is important. My own home was built in 1907. We must have a sensibility to respect the existing building and to work with it. In a renovation as in new construction, we must consider every aspect, focus on the integration of lighting, mechanical and ventilation, but lighting is so important. Today, anyone can light a space, but that’s not successful lighting. Successful lighting is about how you feel in the space. And the feeling is what we must address.”
~Georgina O’Hara Callan