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2023 Design Trends: Designing The World of Tomorrow

The ways in which we live, move, and work are changing fast, and we, at Optima®, believe that up-and-coming architectural trends continue to address many of the challenges faced in modern life. Some solutions focus on more space, more storage, less clutter, and more flexibility. Others address affordable rent, resistance to climate change, and sustainability. These trends, along with a  myriad of others, inspire us and those who are at the forefront of designing the world of tomorrow. Here are some of the trends on the horizon in 2023.

Biophilic Urbanism

Biophilia, a term coined by Erich Fromm in 1964, is the human interaction and appreciation for nature. In 2023, this trend is continually on the rise as we seek to develop buildings that are ecologically friendly in their use of resources. Biophilic design can revolutionize the way we manage stress, increase productivity within offices and educational spaces, and improve mental health, through the use of nature inside and outside of buildings.

While biophilic design is very much at the forefront of architectural trends, it has been central to our work at Optima for decades. Our passionate connection between the built environment and nature continues to be as fluid as it is concrete, reflected in our signature innovation of vertical landscaping. The widespread adoption of this essential design principle, we are excited to welcome others into the process of bringing people and nature closer together.

Sonoran Village®
Optima Sonoran Village®, Vertical Landscaping

Modular Construction

Modular construction has been at the forefront of Optima’s DCHGLOBAL Building System since its conception in 2009 . We began our experimentation with modular construction with Relic Rock, reflecting our commitment to building homes flexibly — in horizontal and vertical directions — sustainably and efficiently anywhere, anytime. 

As part of the broader architectural community seeking modular solutions around the globe, we’re excited by the opportunity to celebrate sustainability and versatility as core values at Optima, while ensuring enduring aesthetics and affordability.

Sonoran Desert, AZ
Relic Rock, Sonoran Desert, AZ

Smart Materials

Through the integration of smart devices in our homes, cars, phones, and wrists comes Smart Materials. Recent developments provide that these materials could eventually respond to changes in pressure, temperature, moisture, and UV radiation, giving architects unfathomable flexibility. Along with an expanded toolkit for designing and building.

Our respect for materiality and space is important for the 360-degree approach to sustainability, and the inclusion of these new and unexplored materials gets us excited about their potential for the environment at large. Part of our role at Optima has been ensuring the environment remains protected with the inclusion of smart materials such as bird glass or green concrete within many of our buildings.

Bird glass
Bird Safe Glass

Community-Centered Design

It is a universal truth that the built environment functions better if those who use it are involved in the process of creation. Designing buildings with community in mind makes for rich and diverse environments where people can be themselves, while also giving them a sense of ownership in the places where they live, play, and work.  As we enter 2023, we are seeing greater collaboration between architects, developers and their communities across the globe — much the way Optima has partnered with the cities, villages and neighborhoods where we have put down roots for more than 40 years.

 

Growing Your Own Herbs at Optima Verdana®

The stellar Rooftop Sky Deck and communal courtyard at Optima Verdana® abound with gorgeous greenspace and reflective hardscape surfaces to reduce heat. Our residents can delight in the outdoors year-round for both recreation and relaxation. And for those with green thumbs, dedicated planters atop the Sky Deck will be home to a seasonal herb garden.


Check your kitchen cabinets, your cupboards, your drawers! If you spend any time cooking, you probably have dried thyme, basil, and even a bit of parsley or oregano. These earthly delights known as herbs are easily accessible from most grocery stores, but imagine what it would be like if you grew them yourself?

In spite of their simplicity, herb gardens are magical places and offer many gifts — from cooking, to medicine, to unique fragrances. Growing your own herbs also serves as an exercise in gratification, and so much more:

Great for All Skill Levels

First, herb gardens are great for beginner gardeners because they require minimal effort and are easier to grow than vegetables. They don’t require large plots of land, and grow well in pots, planters and other containers. Herbs don’t need much fertilizing, which is a huge plus for beginners, and they can handle a wide range of temperatures that’s ideal for Chicago’s seasons. 

Herbs
Basil, parsely, thyme, and rosemary

Redefining the Word “Fresh”

When your recipes call for fresh herbs, what could be more delightful — and satisfying — than heading to your herb garden with a pair of kitchen shears and picking or cutting what you need? And because you can harvest your herbs while you’re cooking, they will always be fresh and fragrant.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Knowing that you have easy access to what you’re growing, you may find yourself with an appetite for expanding your repertoire with dishes that specifically call for fresh herbs. This is a real treat, since the flavors are so much more robust and the option to have full leaves, stems and flowers in your preparations is a real bonus. 

The herb garden also offers the opportunity to experiment with new flavor combinations. Take advantage of your herbs and try out a new recipe or two. Try growing herbs that are uncharted territory for you, this will likely lead to taking new risks in your cooking. Which in turn will enrich your life with new and flavorful experiences.

As you head into the fall and winter months, you can harvest your herbs and dry them indoors. This will tide you over until spring arrives and it’s time to plant again.

Creating A Healthy, Budding Community

The herb garden at Optima Verdana® is part of the powerful community experience of connecting with others around a shared purpose. All it takes is one seed to sow a relationship and build a budding new friendship with a neighbor. This convenience of access offers residents physical exercise, fresh air and the meditative qualities of connecting to the earth. 

If you’re looking for ideas for dishes that will put your fresh herbs in the spotlight at your next dinner or event, The Food Network offers quite a few!

The Role of the Courtyard in Optima® Communities

In a former Forever Modern post, we shared a brief history of the courtyard. From their earliest uses around 6000 BC in the Jordan Valley, courtyards have evolved into physical settings that enable people to interact harmoniously with others — and with their natural surroundings.

Within the Optima® culture, we never grow tired of exploring relevant, resonant expressions of the courtyard within the communities we design and build. Over the past several years, we have turned our attention to the role of courtyards in our projects in Chicago — Optima Lakeview® and Optima Verdana® — as an integral element in creating an elevated sense of home.

Take the atrium at Optima Lakeview®. Sharing the same properties as a courtyard, this distinctive architectural feature is a stunning landscaped interior volume that runs through the building’s 7-story core and is enclosed by a fixed in-place skylight at the roof to bring natural light into the building’s interior. The residential units and building amenities are arranged around the atrium. In its central role, the atrium serves as a public space flooded with light, filled with plants and flowers, and outfitted with comfortable seating where residents and their guests can linger and enjoy the outdoors, even with the Midwest’s seasons might not make it hospitable to be outdoors.

A rendering of Optima Verdana’s lounge and residential courtyard

Exemplifying our passion for opportunities to engage with nature and organic environments is a vibrantly landscaped courtyard found in the heart of Optima Verdana® in Wilmette. The open-air space serves as a lush oasis for residents and is home to 7’ high garden walls, verdant trees, restful seating and more than 1,500 light-filled square feet. Beyond the tranquility and sheer beauty of the abundant plantings in the courtyard, residents enjoy remarkable access to reoxygenating air, natural light and the absence of ambient noise. It’s no surprise that the building is a proud recipient of two Green Globes from the prestigious Green Globes® Building Certification program, acknowledging that the building’s courtyard design contributes to the larger eco-friendly environment!  

At Optima, we celebrate the power of connection — to nature and to each other — as we express it through timeless architecture complimenting the built environment.

Women in Architecture: Mary Jane Long

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting a designer who left a powerful presence on the architecture of 20th century England, Mary Jane Long. From juggling the construction of a library for three decades to teaching at Yale, Long was always engrossed in her work. Learn more about her impressive life and accomplishments below: 

The Life of MJ Long

MJ Long was born on July 31, 1939, in Summit, New Jersey. Long graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class in 1956 and excitedly moved to Montreal, where she began her undergraduate studies in journalism at Smith College. Shortly after though, she discovered her love for architecture and enrolled in Yale’s four-year architecture program. 

During her time at Yale, Long was surrounded by some of the 20th century’s most celebrated architects, including James Stirling, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, her professor Paul Rudolph and her future husband, Colin St John Wilson. After meeting at Yale, Wilson and Long moved to London together, where she began working in his office as an architect in 1965 and later married. 

The British Library, designed by Long and Wilson, 1973

Notable Works and Achievements

Much of Long’s work was created in tandem with her husband at his architecture firm. One of their first projects was Spring House in Cambridge, which was completed in 1965 and featured a mixture of traditional US, UK and Scandinavian architectural elements. Unique characteristics of the home include a roof clad in concrete Roman tiles, reclaimed brick and specific lighting conditions for several rooms.

Long’s next major project took nearly 30 years from start to finish to complete, but it immediately became a beloved masterpiece across the United Kingdom. Originally part of the British Museum, the British Library officially found its own home in 1973 with the help of Long and Wilson. Home to nearly 14 million books, the library is one of the largest in the world. Along with designing the library itself, Long was responsible for designing the King’s Library – the glass-enclosed sculptural centerpiece of the building. 

The National Maritime Museum, designed by Long and Wilson, 2003

Other notable builds designed by Long include the Pallant House, an extension of an elegant Georgian build, and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, England, a grand timber shed paired with a concrete lighthouse completed in 2003. 

Until her passing in 2018, Long brought her unique design perspective with her wherever she went, always building with utmost attention to detail. Her distinguished career solidified her as one of England’s most acclaimed architects whose designs still influence the daily lives of many today.

A Look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unsold Designs

On December 9, 2022, Christie’s auction house held a special auction to release a collection of rare drawings, glasswork and furniture produced by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The collection was put up for sale by Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Corporation, the iconic American furniture manufacturer that enjoyed a unique relationship with the famed architect. Today, we’re taking a look at the treasured work:

In the mid-1930s, Wright was working on his seminal corporate design for the Johnson Wax Headquarters, commissioned by S.C. Johnson & Son in Racine, Wisconsin. He approached Steelcase with the hopes of working with them to manufacture furniture for the building. Decades later, in 1985, Steelcase bought the Meyer House — a home designed by Wright in 1909 in Grand Rapids, Michigan — to celebrate the spirit of innovation and collaboration between Wright and Steelcase that began during the Johnson Wax Headquarters project. Steelcase set out to uncover the original designs of the home, and after several years of extensive research, they accumulated a number of Wright’s original drawings that documented the architect’s vision. After a two-year restoration that included demolition of a 1922 addition to the home and fanatical attention to hundreds of interior and exterior details, the Meyer House stands as the most complete and authentic restorations of all of Wright’s designs.

An executive desk and armchair designed by Wright for SC Johnson’s headquarters

Taken together, the projects represent unique and different moments in Wright’s career. The Meyer House is a prime example of his Prairie School era, a period of roughly 15 years in the early 1900s when commissions most often came from affluent families before he shifted focus to more. These designs typically feature hip roofs with long eaves, art glass ribbon windows and strong horizontal lines. 

Wright designed multiple residential structures in this style for about 15 years in the early 1900s before shifting focus to more democratic architecture. The S.C. Johnson building, on the other hand, is considered Wright’s corporate masterpiece; today it remains one of the most important examples of the American corporate office building. 

The unique glasswork designed by Wright for the Meyer House

The pieces included in Christie’s auction come from these two projects and include the executive desk master and executive arm chair master from the S.C. Johnson project and windows from the Meyer house. Wright’s original drawings for the furniture he designed for both the Johnson Wax Headquarters and the Meyer House were also sold, including schematics for an officer’s chair from the S.C. Johnson building and the sofa and living room table from the Meyer House. 

It’s not often that fans of Frank Lloyd Wright fans have the opportunity to acquire processual works — in this case, drawings, windows and furniture that reveal the process that Wright and his clients used to produce masterpieces.

Conceptualizing the Future of Furniture

During the spring semester of 2022, the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted Course 4.041 — Advanced Product Design. The focus of the course was to “develop concepts of sustainability for a more ecologically-responsible and digitally-enabled future.” According to the course syllabus, students would be asked to “reinterpret and conceive of new typologies, redefining what ‘furniture’ means from the ground-up.” Today, we’re spotlighting just a handful of their future facing designs. 

To make the course even more interesting, MIT teamed up with Emeco, an iconic American furniture company to provide students with access to Emeco’s manufacturing technology as they conceptualized sustainable furniture. The students’ design solutions have been dubbed The Next 150-year Chair, based on Emeco’s 1006 Navy chair developed in 1944, which, according to the manufacturer, has a “150-year lifespan.”

Associate Professor Skylar Tibbits explained that “Today, a 150-year chair means making something that lasts a long time, which is a great thing to do. But the question is whether that will be the same for the next 150 years – should the goal still be to make things that last forever? That’s one approach, but maybe there’s something that could be infinitely recyclable instead or something that’s modular and reconfigurable.”

La Junta designed by María Risueño Dominguez

Over the spring term, five students explored their unique approaches to answering the question. Their results featured a number of complete furniture pieces and components that were exhibited at Emeco House, the company’s converted 1940s sewing shop, in Venice, CA in late November. 

María Risueño Dominguez developed a furniture component based on longevity. Her research on furniture consumption and interviews with people involved in the furniture industry resulted in a concept called La Junta – a cast-aluminum joint with multiple different inserts shaped to fit a variety of components.

Rewoven Chair designed by Faith Jones

Amelia Lee developed a product designed to last through different stages of childhood. It is made from a single sheet of recycled HDPE. Modeled on a rocking chair, the piece can be turned on its side to function as a table.

Zain Karsan set out to improve metal 3D printing technology for the frames of his chairs, focusing on a technique for dispensing molten material at high-speed to explore new ways to think about form and joining parts.

Faith Jones designed the ReWoven Chair, with an aluminum frame and a recycled (and replaceable) cotton sling, as an exploration into how to maintain comfort and sustainability.

Jo Pierre’s interest in maintaining comfort within dense physical settings resulted in a chair called Enhanced Privacy — a plastic partition designed for domestic spaces that includes a hanging sheet of plastic that can be filled with water to block sound and diffuse light.

As both a design process and a collaboration between academia and industry, The Next 150-year Chair Project established a refreshing model for how we might conceptualize the future of furniture while pushing the boundaries of sustainable design and novel materials.

How Denmark is Leading the Movement in Sustainable Architecture

As champions of leading-edge, thoughtfully-designed spaces built to inspire communities, we enjoy sharing the visionary work of others who continue to impact the world’s landscape. One of the world’s leading cities aiming to set a powerful example of how architecture can help enrich the lives of those around it is Copenhagen, Denmark. Let’s take a look at how the Scandinavian country is leading the movement in sustainable architecture.

The Danish capital is embracing the title it received just a year ago as the world’s most sustainable city by championing various sustainable practices. Soon to host the UIA World Congress of Architects, Copenhagen’s latest builds feature a mixture of unprecedented eco-conscious and climate-resilient designs. 

One of the city’s most famous sustainable builds is the CopenHill power plant, said to be the “cleanest-waste-to-energy power plant in the world” and the winner of the European Commission’s Green Building Award in 2012. The unique build is combined with a recreational facility, allowing visitors to ski and sled down its artificial slope throughout the year. 

COBE, Karen Blixens Plads, 2019, Copenhagen, Denmark, Courtesy of Rasmus Hjortshøj

Many of the city’s other leading designs stem from its appreciation for cycling. Since 2005, Copenhagen has spent more than $16 million on cycling infrastructure, including the Karen Blixens Plads, a public plaza that holds parking for more than 2,000 bikes, and Lille Langebro, a cycling bridge that easily opens to admit boats. 

Copenhagen’s love and appreciation for sustainable design is something the country has held for decades, stemming from pioneering architects like Jan Gehl, who promoted humanist architecture in the 1970s. Today, the city relies on local architects and designers to build on its rich history of eco-friendly design. 

At Optima, we continue to explore the best possible ways to create harmony between the built and natural environments to allow our residents to enjoy a healthier, more sustainable environment. From our signature vertical landscaping systems and ample green spaces to the inclusion of induction cooktops, we look to embrace sustainable design in every aspect of our residents’ lives.

With new forms of sustainable design created across the world daily, we can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable home for all.

A Brief History of Potawatomi Architecture

With new territory comes a vast architectural culture and history. While the Midwest is home to many distinguished styles, perhaps none is as storied as Potawatomi architecture. While our Modernist design is in stark contrast with Potawatomi styles, as we continue to expand our community into Wilmette, we honor the history and modern-day impact of the land’s past Potawatomi architecture.

Found in the Great Lakes region, the Potawatomi’s architecture became heavily influenced by the climate and resources of the area. Traditionally, Potawatomi bands built two separate types of shelters: the wigwam and the longhouse. Construction on longhouses traces back to 900 CE. The rectangular builds held various uses in a tribe, from holding meeting places and ceremonies to uses as multi-family homes. 

The wigwam was a popular element in Indigenous architecture stretching beyond the Potawatomi. To construct the dome-shaped home, the Potawatomi typically used a mixture of bent saplings as the home’s skeleton, with woven mats or sheets of bark covering the exterior. The interior of the wigwam would normally include a fire in the center of the shelter with a smoke hole directly above. 

A modern reconstruction of a longhouse interior

Early adopters of sustainable architecture, Potawatomi bands used everything they could for their builds with little waste. Animal skin was used as blankets, bags or insulation, and everything from tree bark to cattail reeds were used throughout a home’s construction. 

While little remains of Potawatomi architecture today, honoring the history and significance is critical to ensuring it remains a part of our history. To learn more about the Potawatomi’s storied architecture and culture, visit their website here.

Women in Architecture: Sophia Hayden Bennett

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting a master of technical design and someone who played a critical role in advancing the field for women, Sophia Hayden Bennett. While her builds were limited, Hayden’s talent and enthusiasm led her to achievements few people had reached at the time. Learn more about her impressive life and accomplishments below: 

The Life of Sophia Bennett 

Sophia Hayden Bennett was born in Santiago, Chile, on October 17, 1868. Hayden’s mother was of Peruvian descent, while her father was originally from the northeast United States. She spent her childhood in Chile but later moved to Boston to live with her grandparents and attend high school. In high school, she found her love for architecture, which emboldened her to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1886. 

Sophia Hayden Bennett, MIT Thesis, 1890, Courtesy of Rotch Library, MIT

Hayden was the first woman admitted to the MIT bachelor’s program in architecture and one of only a few women attending the school at the time. She became the first woman to graduate with a degree in the program four years later, in 1890. Throughout her time at MIT, Hayden’s classes ranged from niche drawing topics to construction and business courses, and she exuberantly mastered each subject, steering her to her final thesis, a design for a Museum of Fine Arts. 

Notable Works and Achievements 

Following her graduation from MIT, Hayden continued her passion for technical drawing as a teacher of mechanical drafting at a school in Boston. However, in February 1891, the World’s Columbian Exposition announced their competition for a design of the Woman’s Building, an exhibition hall for the 1893 Chicago exposition, and Hayden saw an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. 

The Woman’s Building designed by Hayden at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1983

Entries for the contest were limited to only designs made by women, and advertisements specified that each entrant must have professional architecture training. In the end, only twelve total entrants submitted designs, all under the age of twenty-five. Hayden’s design was eventually chosen as the winning design by a jury, which included Daniel Burnham. Along with being appointed as the building’s architect, she received a $1,000 prize. 

The winning design featured an Italian Renaissance classicism style, similar to the characteristics Hayden employed in her MIT thesis. The rectangular, two-story building utilized a wood structure and featured a central portico bordered by two symmetrical wings. At its interior, a central rotunda acted as the heart of the building, with rooms featuring exhibits of works by women across the world surrounding it. 

The interior of the Woman’s Building, 1893

Following the construction of the building, both Hayden and her design received public acclaim. Even with its praise, the commission – which was Hayden’s first – ended up being her last. However, she continued lending her design and drawing skills elsewhere, none of which became constructed. 

While Hayden’s physical contributions to the architectural world were limited, her expertise in technical drawing and passion for expanding opportunities for women in her field helped shape a storied legacy of her own.

Being a Good Neighbor Makes a Difference

With a commitment to community as one of our core beliefs at Optima®, it’s no surprise that we are tuned into the notion of neighborliness and what it means to be a good neighbor. We take great satisfaction in nurturing the desire for connection and engagement with residents across all of our communities and love to keep abreast with research that lends new insight into why it matters to know your neighbors.

In a recent Axios piece, published on July 27, 2022, Erica Pandey explores “The power of knowing your neighbors.” Drawing data from a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2019, here’s what we’ve learned:

A majority of Americans don’t know most of their neighbors — and they barely talk to the ones they do know.

Why it matters: Strong communities boost the health, happiness, and longevity of their residents. Befriending neighbors ensures a helping hand in times of need and provides new friends to explore your larger neighborhood. But over the last several decades, our connections with our neighbors have been fraying.

What’s happening: We’re leaving our homes with screens in our hands. And since the pandemic made us even less likely than we were before to stop and chat with new folks, most of the people living around us are strangers.

Optima Lakeview’s communal sports lounge, golf simulator and basketball/pickleball court

Thankfully, each of our Optima Communities supports plenty of opportunities to engage with fellow neighbors, whether you know them or not! We design spaces that inherently bring people closer to each other, closer to their environment and closer to themselves. This intention manifests itself from the thought-provoking artwork that fills the hallways of each community to the wealth of communal amenity spaces, including fully outfitted sports areas, movie theaters, party and game rooms and state-of-the-art fitness centers. 

Along with our state-of-the-art amenities, each of our onsite teams carefully curates a variety of social events and programs throughout the year. From hosting food trucks and music and cocktail nights to flower arranging courses and fitness classes, we take the time to understand each of our residents’ interests, so we can thoughtfully tailor our programming around them!

And because we not only see the value in having a tight-knit community within our walls but within our broader neighborhoods, we created the Optima® Connect Program. Through the program, residents in each of our multi-family communities receive exclusive benefits and discounts to local businesses around their larger communities, further fostering a friendly community ecosystem.

Supporting connection among our residents and neighbors is something we care deeply about at Optima. So, what’re you waiting for? Step outside and spark a conversation today!

person name goes here

Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL





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