The New Architecture: Integrating the Built and Natural Environment

In a recent New York Times article, author Karrie Jacobs wrote that the “hard barriers between the designed environment and the natural one are softening maybe for good.” 

Jacobs went on to say, “Designers today are rebalancing the relationship between architecture and nature, with the goal of increasing the quality of life, especially in urban settings.” 

The NYTimes article features several new and innovative works by global architects who are designing to fuse outdoor and indoor, with structures that are both influenced by and have influence on their environment. We love to see the innovation taking place throughout the architecture world, and the continued conversation surrounding how design can evolve to appreciate nature.

From the beginning, our work at Optima has celebrated this fundamental connection between design and nature as a way of enhancing the human experience. Since our founding in the late 70s, we have been utilizing Modernist design to create homes that are an extension of their environment and integrate nature into the lives of those that live in them.

Sandy Knoll, Optima, Homewood, Illinois
Sandy Knoll, Optima, Homewood, Illinois

One of our first residences, Sandy Knoll, demonstrated how modular housing could integrate a home into a steep, challenging wooded knoll. What resulted was a beautiful home that preserved the integrity and grace of its site, with mature trees and local Illinois vegetation creating the views out of glass-paneled walls. 

Since then, we have continuously challenged ourselves to evolve new ways of incorporating nature into our design. Green space has always been a large component to the communities that we build, and our move to Arizona has only deepened our intimate understanding of landscaping.

Relic Rock, Optima DCHGlobal, Scottsdale, Arizona
Relic Rock, Optima DCHGlobal, Scottsdale, Arizona

Our desert dwellings incorporate the elevation, vegetation and climate of the desert into every facet of design, from bridged courtyards to the materials and colors used for each home’s exterior. Glass curtainwalls also provide uninterrupted, panoramic views of the sweeping landscape, so that the mountains of the desert feel a part of each home.

Optima Sonoran Village, Scottsdale, Arizona
Optima Sonoran Village, Scottsdale, Arizona

In our multifamily work, we incorporate the Optima vertical landscaping system to create protection, privacy and beauty. For us, lush landscaping vertically and horizontally across our communities is an integral part of creating connection – a connection that is both physically inviting and spiritually inviting, as our design seeks to connect people with their surrounding environment.

We look forward to the future, to constantly pushing the boundaries and exploring how to further unify the built and natural environment. We’re excited that the work we do is part of a larger conversation in the architecture world and can’t wait to see what we, and others, do next for architecture and for the earth.

Location, Location, Location

Ask any real estate broker what the three most important things to consider when renting or buying a home are and they’ll say location, location, location. According to The New York Times, the phrase location, location, location has been in use since at least 1926 — that means that for nearly a century, this is one thing in real estate that hasn’t changed.

Here at Optima, location has always been an integral part of our development process. As the owner, architect, developer and general contractor of our own communities, we see location in a multifaceted way.

Location as Sustainability

As developers, when we seek out land for a new property, we view our search from a responsible, sustainable approach. We prioritize infill developments so that we effectively utilize the land as well as prioritizing valuable open green space. Our very first project in 1978 was urban renewal land in Hyde Park at S Kenwood Ave and E 54th St, and since then we’ve carried on that pattern. 

Location as Design Sensibility

As architects, our practice and design are informed by the context of a new development. We are mindful of the existing architecture in an area, considering both how our building will stand out against the rest while also considering how our new addition will complement its surroundings. With Optima Signature in Streeterville, our sleek, Modernist skyscraper stands out amongst the historical beauties that surround it, creating a juxtaposition that adds complexity and intrigue to the skyline. 

The Nature of Location

As we continue to redefine our roots in modernism, it’s also important to celebrate the fundamental connection between design and nature. Our communities merge indoor and outdoor into a single, holistic experience. Whether in the desert of Arizona or the grid of Chicago, it’s critical to us that our communities are informed by and embrace the nature of the surrounding area. When building desert residence Shadow Caster, we integrated the design of the home with the sloping of the land, creating a bridge feature and courtyard that holistically connect the indoor and outdoor experience of the residence.

Location as an Amenity

As owners, we know what people look for in their community. We also select locations for our properties based on the amenities of the surrounding area. We believe that the homes we build extend beyond their own doors — for our residents, their neighborhood is a large part of their living experience, from the view outside their window, to the transportation they take to work, to the restaurants, bars and shops that they frequent in the area. It’s all vital to the way that we build not just homes, but communities. At 7160 and 7180 Optima Kierland, the Scottsdale location is ripe with amenities. The multi-phase Optima Kierland project is located within steps of Scottsdale Quarter and Kierland Commons, two of the best entertainment areas in all of Scottsdale.

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