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Architect About Town

Oasis designer gets "A" for effort

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

A weekend in Chicago, the First City of American Architecture, and I found myself immersed in a sea of Architecture with a capital A — buildings appropriately designed for their time and place. With tall buildings still fresh in my mind, I went questing among those recently built along the Caloosahatchee for Appropriate Architecture.

In the past few years I’ve watched the high-rises crop up with curiosity and some apprehension. But one in particular, Oasis, caught my attention since the unveiling of the pre-construction billboards back in 2005.

So I jumped at a timely invitation to tour the waterfront condominium community and interview the developer, Jorge Perez. Perez speaks of Oasis as an experiment, recognizing it is architecturally ambitious for Southwest Florida but insisting the outcome is not about style but instead a suitable response for Fort Myers.

He talks passionately in broad concepts: light, air, breezes, indoor/outdoor lifestyles and importantly, paying attention to local sensibilities — location and climate.

From the beginning, Perez knew what he didn’t want: a high-rise with small windows, dark insect screens and bulky railings that restrict marvelous views of the Caloosahatchee and downtown and hamper natural daylight and river breezes.

Cuban-born architect Hector Valdivia was appointed to conceptualize his ambitious ideas and together they have created what the marketing brochures don’t tell you: Oasis is an elegantly designed complex characterized by a response to the climate, making the most of a fantastic waterfront location in a challenging neglected neighborhood.

The outcome is not shockingly modern, but appropriate and timeless.

Riverside Park and a growing appreciation of the nearby historic architecture have prompted the beginnings of regeneration in an area that has been less desirable for years, and Perez is determined his development will contribute, not detract, from the progress made in recent years.

Tall and slender, the residential towers of Oasis stand gracefully at the water’s edge. The two buildings are by design thin to reduce the visual impact inherent of high rises. The bonus: shallow floor plans that encourage breezes to easily flow through the units.

Gently curved balconies serving as sunshades to the units below mimic ripples on the water and unconsciously soften the perception of the new towers in the neighborhood. Notably, every elevation is equally well-designed. The outcome: no side turns its back to the street.

Inside, both public and private spaces, e.g. the units and common areas, encourage an indoor/outdoor lifestyle and from inception were designed to maximize views out and usher daylight in.

Modest in size, the living units are open plan: kitchens flow in to living/dining spaces and the units extend front to back. Oversized sliding doors, floor-to-ceiling windows and clear glass balustrades ensure unobstructed views. Daylight pours in and makes its way deep into the units. The balconies wrap the buildings, not only encouraging outdoor living but psychologically expanding the indoor space out.

Common areas get the same treatment. They are filled with daylight and oriented toward the water.

Perez has watched over every detail large and small — right down to choosing the artwork — ensuring an atmosphere that is contemporary but not brutally modern. After all, this is Fort Myers, not Miami or Buenos Aires.

One might argue in hindsight that Southwest Florida doesn’t need two 32-story high-rise condominium towers, but it's difficult to argue with the outcome — a sophisticated upgrade to a long ignored neighborhood-right on the river.

And the considered design is certainly “A”ppropriate for here.

As for the other high-rises — their residents will benefit the most. From high up they will enjoy the best view of the two elegant towers.

Joyce Owens AIA RIBA