UM School of Architecture design studio wins “Building of the Year”

The Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio building is located beside the architecture school at the University of Miami's Coral Gables campus. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian
The Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio building is located beside the architecture school at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

The Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio, the newest addition to the University of Miami School of Architecture, has already done far more than sit still and look pretty. Designed by Florida architecture firm Arquitectonica, the modern concrete studio was awarded World-Architects’ 2018 “Building of the Year.”

World-Architects is a group that highlights and features “remarkable architects and their projects from around the world,” according to their website. The studio was up against 42 other buildings in the United States that World-Architects had nominated.

For every student in the architecture school, the Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio serves as a collaborative, open workspace. However, the building has more to it than its structure. “It is such a clear demonstration and manifestation of a philosophy of teaching and learning, the kind of environment that encourages cross-pollination between every student in the school,” said School of Architecture Dean Rodolphe el-Khoury.

The design is in accordance with the modern route UM has taken with the construction of new buildings in the past decade. The Shalala Student Activities Center, completed in 2013, is the biggest indicator of this architectural trend on campus.

The 20,000-square-foot architecture building provides 120 students with resources and space to work on their design projects. There is a lounge, a computer lab, presentation areas and offices. The interior is mostly open with floor to ceiling glass windows lining the perimeter. Coastal Construction built the studio, which was named after the founder and CEO of the company.

Despite excitement over the award, winning medals was never the goal in building the state-of-the-art facility, said el-Khoury. “Winning an award was the icing on the cake,” he said, “But it was not the intention.”

Students in the architecture school were also thrilled with the award. Gretchen Lemon, a junior architecture student, said she loves the design.

Students study and work on their architectural plans inside the Thomas P. Murphy Design Studio. Photo credit: Hunter Crenian

“The high ceilings and exposed ductwork are a stark contrast from the charms of the white and yellow buildings I work in for studio currently,” she said.

The one flaw she noticed, however, is the acoustics of the building. Conversations and presentations tend to reverberate through the open structure, which can be irritating during times of stress, she said.

Nonetheless, having an award-winning building is motivational and inspiring to Lemon. “I definitely appreciate it more because architecture is my major,” she said. “I notice details and elements I would have otherwise completely ignored.”

Daniel Kamb, a student in his third year in the School of Architecture, said he thinks the design is sleek. “It’s cool and interesting and modern while not being sterile like modern architecture can sometimes feel,” he said.

However, he too says there is an issue with how sound travels through the facility. “I like how it can act as a catalyst for group work and interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said, “But it can get really noisy when it’s busy.”

Despite this, Kamb said he agrees that the building is deserving of the award. “There were some strong contenders,” he said. “It’s cool that we won. It makes me feel proud.”

The firm behind the design, Arquitectonica, was founded in 1977 in Miami by Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear, former dean of the School of Architecture. Their mission of design is grounded in “bold modernism.”