Photographs courtesy Brillhart Architecture

The Brillhart House is a perfect 1500 square foot example of tropical modernism located along the Miami River, in Downtown Miami. Designed and built by husband-and-wife team Melissa and Jacob Brillhart of Brillhart Architecture, the structure seamlessly blends concepts of old and new by pairing elements of American glass pavilion typology with principles of mid-century modernism. 

Completed in 2014, the house was designed and mostly built by the couple using a back-to-basics approach that fuses good form with good practices. The Brillharts made each design decision on the basis of four main questions, “What is necessary; how can we minimize our impact on the earth; how do we respect the context of the neighborhood; and what can we really build?”

In an effort to challenge the culture for building big, they created a space that has won numerous awards including House of the Year (2014) and garnered attention from publications including The New York Times, Dwell, ArchDaily, and Anthology, among others.

Elevated 5-feet off the ground, the house is laid out in a dogtrot residential style that was common in the Southeast U.S. in the 19th and early 20th centuries – two buildings connected by a central breezeway.  The kitchen acts as a central corridor, connecting the living space with the bedrooms.

The exterior includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass – 50 feet spanning the length of the front and rear facades, with four sets of sliding glass doors that open entirely to front and back porches, shielded by shuttered doors for privacy and protection against the elements. The visual effect of the facade is stunning and along with the position of the house, at the center of the 330-foot long lot, allows the structure to seamlessly blend with the dense native landscape.

For the Brillharts, the research process for the house included looking at old models of homes, including ones dating the ‘50s and ‘60s by Florida’s postwar architects such as Alfred Browning Parker, Rufis Nims, Robert Bradford Browne, Mark Hampton, Paul Rudolf and Ralph Twitchell, William Morgan, Donald Singer, Gene Leedy, and others.

“In an era of optimism and experimentation, these architects married building traditions with passive systems, new technologies, and innovative construction techniques. Their work really became a model for sustainable design in the tropics, “ says Jacob.  And a big inspiration for the couple.

By analyzing the construction plans for four residences built in the post-war period, they were able to create plans for their own home, “As models, these projects display an incredible range of materials and building systems. As a visual tool-kit, they served as a tremendous resource for us on this project, “ says Melissa.

With an aim to use as many off-the-shelf materials as possible, the Melissa and Jacob made adjustments to the plans so that they could also do most of the building themselves – the width of the house was adjusted to fit standard commercial storefront sliding doors. The depth of the house is 50 feet, which is based on the longest length of a steel beam that does not require an oversized road permit. The cabinets are hand-milled and the wood was road-tripped down from New Hampshire. It took them approximately two years to complete the project.

the bookcase in the living area.

Since then, the Brillharts have received requests to complete similar projects through their firm. Once people saw the finished product, they understood the vision. “Ironically, we have old models from South Florida’s Tropical Modernists - dating back to the 1950s and ‘60s - of structures made of concrete, wood, steel, and hybrid systems. Simple, rational, efficient, cost-effective buildings that celebrate the tropics that also lend feasible and innovative design alternatives for Miami’s future buildings.”

Founded in 2006, Brillhart Architecture is a nationally-renowned, award-winning firm that focuses on residential and commercial architecture as well as furniture, exhibitions, and design projects that mediate between art and architecture.

One of those exhibitions is Our House Miami. For four days, The Brillhart House will transform from a private home to a public space with virtually everything – including furniture, artwork, decorative objects, floral arrangements, food, books, and jewelry – available for sale.

Participants include a mix of makers including FLOR, Snowe, Eric Trine, Bower, Books & Books, Yield Design Co., MAU Jewelry, Glo, Amlgmatd, Supply & Advise and The Citizenry.

The space will be activated with a lecture by Brillhart Architecture and three weekend workshops, showcasing an array of well-crafted design and craft in a stunningly unique architectural setting. RSVP is required, workshops are $75 per person, materials are provided.

The Brillhart House
937 NW North River Drive, Miami
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11am to 7pm
Sunday, 11am to 4pm