Designing buildings for the luxury buyer is a balancing act, says Miami Architect

Charles Sieger, a Miami architect and the president of Sieger Suarez Architects, has spent the past 50 years helping build the downtown Miami skyline—from a swath of palm trees to a waterfront of condo towers.

He started as an architect in 1972 and founded his office in 1980 together with fellow architect Jose Suarez. Since then, they have become leaders of luxury high-rise developments, with one visual trademark: no visual trademark.

While some architects such as Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid’s buildings are instantly recognizable, Mr Sieger’s buildings on the Miami skyline, able to let the developer’s vision speak without getting in the way. In other words, he’s adept at the art of design subtlety, creating high-end visual drama without overwhelming you with blooms.

Lately, the Miami real estate market has been booming and Mr. Sieger’s company is leading the way in this hot market. He designed the Waldorf Astoria Residences Miami, the city’s first supertall, as well as the new E11EVEN Hotel & Residences Miami, a gleaming tower with a helipad on the roof. Sieger, 75, talks to Mansion Global about infinity pools, the boom of downtown Miami and why he lives on a farm.

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Mansion Global: How have luxury properties changed in Miami lately?

Karel Winner: We have been doing luxury real estate for 20 years. The biggest change is essentially the movement of downtown Miami. The heights, the taller towers are accepted, there is constant fighting in areas like Miami Beach. Miami has 31 municipalities; they are all different zones. The biggest push has been downtown Miami, it’s definitely booming.

MG: Why is Miami’s luxury real estate market on fire now?

CS: I can’t even keep up with the prices that have doubled. That is beyond my understanding. There was a period not long ago when you could buy apartments in high rise buildings for $600,000 tops, now it’s doubled. The cause was the pandemic. Weird how people from the northeast are moving here. Since people were able to work from home, they have come to live here en masse.

MG: Where do you live?

CS: I live on 14 acres of farmland outside the city. I built myself a house here.

MG: What do you think of the private island communities in Miami, will they become more popular?

CS: Star Island and Fisher Island have always been expensive, as has Indian Creek. A house on Bayshore Drive is for sale for $150 million, the highest price in Miami (it’s not on a private island). But as for the private island homes, you can’t even get them, if you do, there was a $50 million sale on Indian Creek recently. These houses are big, but not huge. It’s bizarre what’s happening. It’s great for our region. There are many hedge fund movements here.

MG: You designed the Waldorf Astoria Residences Miami, it’s the tallest building in the city. The building looks like stacked ice cubes. What did you go for?

CS: There are other buildings with staggered blocks, but we wanted to keep them cubes. We wanted to create a sense of tension. I think it’s exciting to look up and see this 300-foot tower off Biscayne Boulevard. We rotated one, offset the other. The bottom three cubes are the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Then the fourth through ninth is out of the box, creating a tension that doesn’t exist in most high-rise buildings. We tried to do something different. Shifting the cubes gives the illusion that the tower is even bigger than it is.

MG: Tell me about the building boom in the city?

CS: 30 towers are being built. There are 16 short term apartment towers that are habitable hotel residences, we are working on four of them. As the price pressures of buying a house and apartment costs skyrocket, there is a huge influx of rental properties. All the people who left are not all rich. Buildings rent 500 units in a week. It’s crazy. It’s pouring in from California, New York and South Americans who can now fly here.

MG: You recently designed Society Biscayne, a building that will soon be vacant, what was the best part about designing this building?

CS: Yes, we just finished, I don’t know when they open it, but it will be full soon. I would say the church is the most unique. The building was on the site of a Methodist church, so we had to replace it. We put it on the facade, so it has a rental building, it has a 22,000 square foot church, common areas, gym, yoga platform, downtown ocean views, retail stores and a co-working lab – it’s really use a mixed building.

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MG: What do you think of the demand for infinity pools and space design for Instagram?

CS: We want every room to be photographable. If you look at the Waldorf’s stairs, it goes from the apartment to the lobby, it’s an over-the-top stairwell. It’s like the bridge between hotels and residential buildings, both of which have restaurants. We always look for architectural imagery first and then partner with the world’s best interior designers to stage it.

MG: Which architect has had the most influence on shaping your own design vision?

CS: It was the gentleman I studied with during my masters at Penn University, Louis Kahn. He was my mentor, a philosopher and a great architect. Doing these towers is like entering a museum where you are alone. You have to call on 500 people who will buy real estate here, that kind of thing, while making it affordable for developers, who sell it. There is a bridge to design, it is a unique position. You have to satisfy the people who live there and do what makes good architecture. It’s a tough climb. It took me many years to get here.

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