1450 Brickell is a 500-foot-tall glass-sheathed office tower that sits at the southern edge of the Brickell business district.
It might look like just another gleaming skyscraper, but the structure, built by developer Alan Ojeda of the Rilea Group, is one of Miami’s greenest and most resilient office buildings. It also serves as a model for what future climate-change ready construction in South Florida might look like.
“[Ojeda] was a pioneer, in a sense,” says Reinaldo Borgers of Borges Architects + Associates, a City of Miami sea level rise committee member.
1450’s green design, its use of impact-resistant glass, its second backup generator, and its cleverly laid-out lobby mean that that the structure will be better prepared to weather the increased storm surges and more powerful hurricanes that climate change is sure to bring.
But the problem with 1450 is that it’s the exception, not the norm, when it comes to resilient building in Miami.
The city’s construction code doesn’t require many of the project’s most important design elements, and many developers aren’t really willing to shell out the extra bucks to shore-up their structures if they don’t have to.
The City of Miami is working to revamp its code, but that lack of regulation means that many of the 32 major construction projects underway right now won’t be ready to meet future climate challenges.
Yet Ojeda managed to incorporate resilient design elements and still make money while doing it.
It was disaster that opened his eyes to the need for resiliency. Because the county building code only requires high-rises to have super-tough glass up to the first 30 feet, Hurricane Wilma’s high winds back in 2005 left many of the city’s towers looking more than a little naked. The Rilea Group took notice.
“We thought, ‘What can we learn from this (disaster)?’” remembers Diego Ojeda, Alan’s son and president of the organization.
So Alan Ojeda decided to sheath his entire building all the way up to the top in an energy saving and high-impact resistant glass.
The glass Ojeda chose ain’t cheap – it costs almost $100 a square foot, but it has its advantages. “They’re saving a ton of energy,” explains Borges. Tempered glass for the exterior of skyscrapers can go for as little as $15 dollars a meter on Alibaba.
And it wasn’t the only major upfront investment. While the city code only requires high-rise buildings to have one backup generator, 1450 Brickell has two, and a week’s worth of backup diesel fuel for when the power goes out. That helps attract high-end tenants like banks, who are willing to pay extra to avoid having their servers go out during a power outage.
1450 was also Miami’s first LEED-certified Gold office building. The high-tech glass means it uses less energy for cooling, and Rilea Group outfitted the skyscraper with water saving features.
“Everything but waterless toilets – my father drew the line at those,” explains Diego.
The high-rise is even outfitted with a suite of sensors that measures C02 content in meeting rooms in order to keep them them from getting stuffy during long conferences.
The building’s architects, NBWW, made sure that it had no floodable underground parking and a high-ceilinged and expansive lobby that was elevated well above the floodplain.
Grant Killingsworth, first vice president of corporate advising and consulting at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, says that conversations about sea level rise and climate change rarely come up with his corporate customers when they’re looking for space.
But he considers the glass covering of 1450 to be a wise investment.
“I think it certainly struck a chord with the decision makers who experienced the disruption of Hurricane Wilma, though I wouldn’t say it was the ultimate needle mover.”
Still, the Rilea Group has no issue finding people willing to pay.
Danet Linares, vice chairman at Blanca Commercial Real Estate, 1450’s leasing agent, points out that the skyscraper now commands the most expensive rental price for office space in all of Brickell. “We’re doing deals at over $60 a square foot.”
The developers farsightedness highlights an under-appreciated aspect of the debate around resiliency: it may just pay well, when done right.
“I think the general rule is that for every dollar you put into resiliency, you get three dollars back,” Borges points out.