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Brillhart House

Brillhart House of Brillhart Architecture’s elevated, 1,500-square-foot house provides a tropical refuge in the heart of Downtown Miami. It includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass spanning the full length of both the front and rear facades and four sets of sliding glass doors that allow the house to be entirely open when desired.

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© Stefani Fachini

Front and back porches add 800 square feet of outdoor living space, and exterior shuttered doors provide privacy and protection against the elements. The architects organized their design around four questions that challenge the culture for building big: what is necessary, how can the impact on the earth be minimized, how to best respect the neighborhood, and what can actually be built? Some answers came from the Dog Trot style house, which has been a dominant typology of Florida vernacular architecture for more than a century. The glass pavilion typology and principles of Tropical Modernism also played influential roles in the final design.

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© Stefani Fachini

“For practical purposes, the house is elevated to meet the required base flood criteria, however, this design feature also provides a) easy access to the undercarriage of the house and b) the ability for the undercarriage to dry out quickly, discouraging termite infestation. Our goal in integrating all of these elements is to try to join found-poetic form and new folk architecture to collectively convey a contemporary, non-sentimental, and pragmatic building language that resuscitates the Ancient, celebrates the Modern, and foresees an architecture without big style.” – Jacob Brillhart

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View of porch – © Stefani Fachini

Local Miami architect, Jacob Brillhart, has studied the work of past architects, like Parker, to understand how their same principles can be applied today. He is using his own house as a case study, which he designed and built, to apply these past principles with adapted building practices.

The Brillhart residence is located in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami, with a rich history. The house sits in the middle of a 350 ft long lot allowing for dense foliage along the front giving a sense of escape and privacy through this connection with the natural world.

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© Brillhart Architecture

His home uses many of the same principles found in the Mass House. There are several different characteristics of sustainability, achieved through responsible design. The building has a rectangular form with the larger faces able to open to the prevailing breezes, allowing air movement though the home.

The square footage is a modest 1500 sq ft, yet it feels much larger because of the addition of two porches that run the length of the building on the front and rear. The roof has a large overhang that provides shade during the hottest of Miami months, restricting direct sunlight from entering into the house interior. These design techniques keep the house considerably cooler and comfortable year round.

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Living Room – © Brillhart Architecture

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© Brillhart Architecture

Brillhart’s house is made from a steel frame construction for many reasons. One, because the construction process in quicker than poured concrete, which can takes weeks to cure. When using reinforced concrete construction, almost as much steel goes into the reinforcing compared to if a building were built of steel alone. There is also a large amount of lumber waste the goes into creating the form work for concrete construction, which leaves tons of plywood and 2×4’s for the dump. Reducing the waste that goes into construction is one of the many things designers have to think about when creating sustainable buildings.

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Kitchen – © Jake Brillhart

Brillhart Architecture:

The design for our house relies on a back-to-the-basics approach – specifically studying old architectural models that care about good form but are also good for something. Each design decision was organized around four central questions that challenge the culture for building big: 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?

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Bedroom – © Bruce Buck

Some answers came from a place with which we are already intimately familiar – the seemingly forgotten American Vernacular, and more specifically, the Dog Trot, which for well over a century, has been a dominant image representing Florida Cracker architecture. The small, simple, and practical building is both modest and rich in cultural meaning. It attempts to maximize efficiency, space, and energy; relies on vernacular building materials; and celebrates the balmy breezes.

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Master Bath – © Bruce Buck

The principles of Tropical Modernism also offered direction. The architects building in South Florida’s postwar period turned to local landscape, climate and materials to inform their designs, marrying building traditions with passive systems, new technologies, and innovative construction techniques. In that same spirit, we sought an alternative to the use of concrete and concrete only, instead exploring steel and glass as the superstructure. As a result, we wasted fewer materials, simplified the assembly, and reduced the cost and time of construction, all the while allowing for increased cross ventilation and a heightened sense of living within the landscape.

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© Brillhart Architecture

Elevated five feet off the ground, the project includes 100 feet of uninterrupted glass – 50 feet spanning the full length of both the front and back sides of the house, with four sets of sliding glass doors that allow the house to be entirely open when desired. The house also includes 800 square feet of outdoor living space, with both front and back porches and shutters along the front façade for added privacy and protection against the elements. These details, and the position of the house, which is at the center of a 330-foot long lot, allow the house to meld seamlessly with the site’s dense and lush native landscaping. With interior and exterior spaces fused together, the experience is that of a floating tropical refuge.

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Detail View – © Brillhart Architecture


With today’s advances in thermal qualities of glass and insulation we were able to use the Tropical modern concepts alongside current Florida Building Code requirements. To meet and/or exceed the required R-Values, we included insulation on all six sides (icynene and rigid insulation); as well as 9/16″ thick thermal glass. We also had to design new assemblies in the process. For one, the new code just came out with requirements to insulate the floor if elevated. As this is a new requirement — we had to develop an entirely new floor detail – creating a sandwich with plywood underneath and on top of a layer of rigid insulation. Meanwhile, in order to achieve the R-Value on the roof and accommodate a slight slope, we designed a similar but inverse concept – installing tapered rigid insulation on the roof, with a layer of plywood underneath followed by icynine below.

The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. It is expressed as the thickness of the material divided by the thermal conductivity. The higher the number, the better the building insulation’s effectiveness. The design for the roof insulation resulted in a R-Value that exceeded what was required.

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© Brillhart Architecture

Project Data:

Project name: Brillhart House
Location: 937 NW North River Drive, Miami, Florida 33136 United States
Coordinates: 25.781870, -80.209893

  • Type By Characteristic: Architects House, Green & Sustainable House, Tropical House
  • Type By Site: City / Town House
  • Type By Size: Small House – (51 sqm – 200 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Steel House

Materials: Steel and wood frame, Concrete floors
Project Area: 135 sqm/1,500 sq.ft
Project Year: 2012-2014
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2014


  • 2015 – Architectural Record Awards – House of the Month – September
  • 2015 – Architect’s Newspaper Best of the Year Design Awards – Category: Best Of: Single Family House – Tie
  • 2014 – Wood Design & Building Magazine Awards – Category: North America – Citation
  • 2014 – The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA Miami Awards – Category: Residential Architecture – Honor Award

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Jacob Brillhart and Melissa Brillhart
Architects: Brillhart Architecture – 25 S.E. 2nd Avenue, Suite 300. Miami, FL 33131 United States
Interior designer: Brillhart Architecture
Architect of record: Jacob Brillhart
Project Team: Melissa Brillhart, Monica Socorro, Audrey Barth

  • Structural engineer: Zvonimir T. Belfranin, PE / Mehdi Mahdavian, Structural Designer
  • MEP Engineer: Energy Sciences/Esber Andiroglu


  • Electrical contractor: South Coast Electric of Dade, Inc.
  • Plumbing Contractor: Sigma Construction Corp.


  • Construction Manager: Jorge del Rey
  • Lead Carpenter: José Manuel Jacome
  • Steel Fabricator: Ralph Provisero


  • Windows & Doors: All American Windows and Doors/ES Windows

Text Description: © Courtesy of Brillhart Architecture, architecturehill, archpaper
Images: © Brillhart Architecture, Stefani Fachini, Bruce Buck, Jake Brillhart, Bruce Buck

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