The Environmental Benefits of Vertical Landscaping

Vertical landscaping is a signature feature across Optima communities. In Arizona, we’re easily recognized by the lush greenery that makes itself a key element of the facade at Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village. Most recently, we’ve even strategized how to bring our vertical landscaping to the inclement midwestern climate, with plans to incorporate it at our latest development in Wilmette, Optima Verdana.

Photo of Optima Verdana
Vertical landscaping at Optima Verdana in Wilmette.

Besides providing aesthetic value through added beauty and privacy for residents, our vertical landscaping system also serves another important purpose: bringing a broad array of environmental benefits to the natural environments in which we build.

The impact of our vertical landscaping system is something we calculated carefully through extensive design exploration, engineering and a multi-year research collaboration with Arizona State University.

The system, with self-containing irrigation and drainage, provides a haven for urban wildlife, promotes evaporative cooling, re-oxygenates the air, reduces dust and smog levels, reduces ambient noise, detains stormwater and thermally insulates and shields residents from the desert sun, all of which contributes to a sustainable urban environment.

Residents and community members alike also get to experience the direct impact of being surrounded by nature, with the vertical landscaping system serving as a connection to nature. Wherever this connection is made, it fosters a lifelong appreciation for the environment around us, and helps us all to stay mindful of the role we play in keeping that environment safe.

The Health Benefits of Being Outdoors

Considering we all spent a lot of time indoors in 2020, we’ll take any excuse to get outside this summer. Thankfully, there are numerous mental and physical perks to spending time in the great outdoors, whether it’s on a hiking trail or on your own terrace. Here are just a few of the many health benefits of being outdoors:

Boost Your Mood

Studies have shown being outdoors lowers levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s a marker for stress. Spending some time outside can help with stress, anxiety or depression, not to mention the added physical benefits of just spending a few minutes in the sun. Vitamin D helps with bone growth, regulates your immune system and can help battle depression. Even if it’s just a quick reset, getting out of the house and into nature can really boost your mood.

Improve Your Vision

Just like we’ve all spent more time inside over the past year, we’ve also spent more time on our screens. Whether you’re back in the office or working from home, your eyes probably need a break. Staring at computers, tablets and smartphones for long periods of time can cause Computer Vision Syndrome, but spending time outdoors can alleviate blurred and double vision, red eyes and headaches.

Photo of Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck
Optima Signature 7th Floor Outdoor Deck

Refresh Your Focus

Nature and green space lets our brains take a break from the chaos of life (and in some cases has even reduced symptoms of ADHD). Spending more time outdoors is also linked to higher levels of concentration, creativity and improved mental clarity.

We hold these health benefits in high esteem, and it’s one of the many reasons we design our residential and communal spaces to invite the outdoors inside. Connecting to nature is an easy way to take some time and connect to yourself and to the environment around you.

Chicago Skyscraper Spotlight: Rookery Building

Highly regarded as one of the most historically significant buildings in Chicago, it’s only natural that we would include the Rookery Building in our ongoing Chicago skyscraper spotlight series. So what does it take for a building to earn such an esteemed title – especially in a city with a skyline marked by its architectural diversity and richness? Let’s take a look.

Big Shoulders Indeed

The Rookery Building was completed in 1888 by architects Daniel Burnham and his partner John Wellborn Root, under their firm Burnham and Root. Overall, the structure is considered one of their masterpiece buildings and was even once the location of their offices. Standing at twelve stories high (188 feet total), it’s also considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.

The Rookery Building rose from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire. Burnham and Root were part of the Chicago School of Architects who worked to rebuild the city during that time, utilizing modern industrial techniques combined with traditional techniques and design, resulting in a truly unique product.

The unique name, too, comes with a story: only a water tank was left standing from the original structure after the fire. A temporary structure was built around this tank, and was nicknamed the “rookery” – in part because of the pigeons and crows that perched on its exterior, but also in part because of the crooked politicians it housed within.

The Rookery, Chicago
Light Well and Mezzanine at The Rookery. Credit: Alan on Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

The Rookery Building in the Modern Era

Burnham and Root weren’t the only big names to call the Rookery Building home. At one point, Frank Lloyd Wright once held offices there as well. In fact, Wright even remodeled the building’s lobby in 1905. Just a few decades ago, from 1982 to 1992, a massive renovation project was completed to restore the lobby to this original Wright design once again.

These days, the building is home to tenants such as US Bank, Brooks Brothers, Perkins Eastman and Interactive Brokers Group. Both the Frank Lloyd Wright organization and the Chicago Architectural Society offer tours inside the building, so that lovers of great architecture today can continue to appreciate its history, story, and gorgeous features.

An Inside Look at Architect Lingo, Part IV

Our team is joined together by a love of exceptional design — so naturally, design is our shared language. From property managers to accountants to architects, we’ve all come to know and love the architect lingo that helps us communicate our passions, our creations and our vision. In celebration and as part of our ongoing series, today we’re sharing Part IV of our inside look at architect lingo.


Pronounced with an exaggerated accent on the e at the end, the word poché comes from the French word pocher, which means to sketch roughly. To the untrained eye, poché refers to the portions of an architecture plan that are blacked out, darkened or cross-hatched. To an architect’s eye however, these blacked-out portions of the drawing hold much information.

Poché in a drawing demonstrates to architects the wall thicknesses, floor thicknesses and all other solid areas that intersect the plane of the section cut. Because poché makes it more clear how much space these solid areas take up (i.e. a normal line wouldn’t demonstrate the thickness of a wall, but poché does), it means that architects then have a better understanding of what space is actually available to them around these elements.

Example of architectural sketch using poché
Architectural drawing of Sterling Ridge.


While the word charette might be unfamiliar to many, likely the meaning behind it will sound all too familiar. Charette refers to the intense final effort made by architectural students to complete their solutions to a given architectural problem in an allotted time or the period in which such an effort is made. It’s the home stretch of a project, if you will.

The word charette is derived from the word “cart,” and its origins date back to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century. During that time, proctors circulated a cart, or “Charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work. Nowadays, the meaning of charette has evolved to refer to a period of several consecutive days, during which time all stakeholders involved in a project are consulted during an open, collaborative process to gather feedback and make refinements to a given plan.


If you’re familiar with Modernist architecture (or if you’ve been an avid reader of our blog), this homological word explains itself. Used as either an adjective or a noun, Miesian as an adjective describes that relating to or characteristic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or his work and Miesian as a noun describes an admirer or student Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or his work.

In the Modernist discipline, this basically sums up all of us and everything we create. Mies’ “skin and bones” design style and philosophy of “less is more” is largely influential to the formulation of the discipline as we know it today.


Stay tuned for future features on the world of architecture lingo at Optima.


Our Beliefs: All In, All the Time

Our beliefs are the principles that unite us, that inspire us each and every day to work toward a shared vision. One of those beliefs — all in, all the time — speaks to our unparalleled dedication, drive and willingness to do everything we can in the pursuit of exceptional design, from the small details to the big picture. We’re constantly at the drawing board with all cylinders firing, ensuring that what we deliver is in its best, most efficient form. That’s Modernism, and that’s Optima.

Our ability to commit so fully is made possible by our vertically integrated business model. Tired of the traditional red tape within real estate development companies, Optima founder David Hovey Sr. wanted to do something different, to start a company built around its dedication to exceptional design. We’re as passionate about the small details as we are about the big picture, and we operate at a pace — and with degrees of precision and attentiveness — that are unparalleled in the real estate development world. We invite the challenge of doing something that others say cannot be done, because we know that it can. 

Thus far 2020 hasn’t been short of challenges, but our team has faced them head-on, from staying inspired to keeping focused through COVID-19. To keep Optima Kierland construction on track, our Arizona construction team worked tirelessly. They adapted through increased safety measures, adjusted schedules and constant communication to make sure everything still ran smoothly.

No matter the situation, we are adaptable and equipped to respond to challenges as they arise. More than just committed to a shared vision, we’re nimble and quick on our feet, bringing unique and innovative solutions that yield better results. To be all in, all the time — it’s not just built into our DNA, it’s built into how we navigate our work and our world every day.

The History of Landscape Design

Landscape design is an integral part of our communities, from our signature vertical landscaping system to intentionally designed sculpture gardens. Each element in our terraces, courtyards and gardens is placed with careful consideration for the aesthetic, function and enjoyment of our residents — inspired by the thought and evolution of centuries of landscape design that came before us. Today, we’re diving deep into that history of landscape design to understand where the craft came from, and where it’s at today.

Ancient Origins of Landscape Design

At the core of landscape design’s history is agricultural development. Beauty and aesthetic function evolved from there, with ancient Japanese gardens designed to facilitate meditation and spiritual connection and ancient Chinese gardens designed as both reflective and social spaces. The two marked features of landscape design are softscaping, utilizing living elements such as trees and flowers, and hardscaping, utilizing non-living additions such as water features, paths, statues and patios. In Japanese gardens, water features were often incorporated in hardscaping while in Chinese gardens, the plants in softscaping often had symbolic, spiritual meaning.

Popularization of Landscape Design

Despite these ancient origins likely dating even further back, the earliest recorded example of landscape design is said to be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon from the 6th century BC. Even then, landscape design isn’t said to have been popularized until it reached the ancient Romans. Their accreditation for the landscape design’s rise is due in part to the fact that they transformed it from something only done for the elites to a practice applied in every home garden. 

From the ancient Romans, landscape design lost momentum during the Middle Ages and was rediscovered by Italy, France and England, respectively, in the 17th century, and was applied to elaborate piazzas, ornate gardens, large parks and even Versailles. The 17th century also saw the rise of cottage-style landscape design, a compact form of gardening that would eventually serve as inspiration for modern day suburban landscaping.

Landscape design at Optima Camelview Village
Landscape design at Optima Camelview Village

Landscape Design in the US Today

In the late 19th century, Frederick Law Olmstead became known as the “Father of American Landscape Architecture.” His aesthetic incorporated sweeping lawns into building design, influencing the US Capital, Central Park in NYC and city planning in Chicago and Cleveland. In 1988, Olmstead founded the American Society of Landscape Architects and classes in the field began to be offered at Harvard in 1900. 

Between evolving urban and suburban landscapes, people’s desire for increased, organized greenspace led to the development of highly evolved outdoor landscaping, gardens and living spaces. The landscape design at Optima reflects this highly evolved trend, incorporating terraces, courtyards, green rooftops and gardens to provide our residents with ways to connect their living spaces with the natural world.

You can learn more about the landscape design at Optima in our green space spotlights on Optima Kierland Center and Optima Sonoran Village.

Team Member Spotlight: Karl Schneider

At Optima, our values are present in every aspect of our operations, from our high-level, vertically-integrated business model to our daily work routines. They are embodied in our team members, who exemplify how our values withstand the test of time, and in turn, help foster long-lasting careers. Ultimately, we want Optima to be a place where our talent can have rewarding years of growth and development. Recently, we interviewed Karl Schneider, our Senior Vice President of Construction, about his journey at Optima over the past 28 years: how it’s helped mold him as a leader and dynamic thinker, and what he’s learned over almost three decades.

Tell us a bit about your background and the role you play at Optima.

My current role as Senior Vice President of Construction is to oversee the Arizona construction team. I work with a team of talented construction superintendents as well as train new team members, educate our team on safety and writing contract scopes.  I work with the Sales Office and our Leasing Team to turn over our luxury condos and apartments at the highest level possible.  All while building strong, lasting relationships with the Optima team, engineers and local building officials.

How did you first begin your journey at Optima?

I went to college at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago where Optima founder, David Hovey Sr. was an Architecture professor. When I realized David Hovey Sr. was also the owner of Optima, I  knew that I wanted to be hired as an intern while in school.  I started at 19-years-old as a laborer and customer service rep, caulking baseboards and getting houses ready for move-in. From there, I worked my way up, moving to Arizona in 2004, and have been here ever since. 

What drew you to Optima initially, and what’s kept you working there all these years?

I never wanted to go to college, but my parents insisted. I wanted to work with my hands as a carpenter and I was interested in seeing things built, so I thought architecture was the next best thing to keep me close to building buildings. When I found out David was doing both construction and architecture, I wanted to be a part of the Optima team. As an owner/developer, there’s no red tape at Optima like there is at a traditional practice. Our problems take minutes to solve instead of months, and the excitement of the everyday evolution of a building is so rewarding. 

How do you view collaboration within Optima?

The collaboration at Optima is awesome because you can pick up the phone and talk to all different parts of the operations, whether it’s architecture, sales, leasing, or marketing. You have access to everyone and don’t need to go through a chain of command; everyone is viewed as equal. 

Which Optima values really speak to the work you’ve done at Optima and your methodologies?

“Exceptional design inspires everything” is one that definitely resonates; all of us are encouraged to speak our mind during the design/build process. If we see something that isn’t ‘Optima-esque’, we can speak up and impact change. For example, we have some wood paneling going in on an amenity level and our team has varying opinions on if it looks good. David Hovey Sr. listens to our feedback and personally checks it out. In a lot of organizations, you lose that level of interest from the principals. 

“Building long, lasting relationships” is another; we will forego being ‘right’ to keep our relationships with subcontractors healthy. 

And “there’s a solution to every problem”…there’s nothing more true! Vertical integration gives us vast knowledge through different disciplines that make problem solving easy. Design, construction, or marketing all look at problems through different lenses and we all collaborate throughout the process.

What are some things you’ve learned over the last 28 years? And how do they inform the work you’re doing now? 

Moving to AZ and not having ‘long lasting relationships’ to start was difficult. You never work alone; it’s the whole team that makes a success, and back in 2004, I learned that the hard way. As good as you think you are, you’re only as good as the team around you.  At Optima, we have an incredible team.

Taking Art Online: How to Visit Fan-Favorite Museums Digitally

As art enthusiasts, we know a trip to the museum can provide much needed inspiration and solace. While many physical cultural institutions have closed their doors as we shelter-in-place, their doors remain very much open online. Today, we’re sharing how our favorite museums have been taking art online, and how you can visit iconic global institutions digitally.

J Paul Getty Museum

Take a trip to sunny LA with digital museum tours offered by the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. Their expansive collection of 6,000+ works makes the museum worth the visit on any ordinary day, but through Google Arts and Culture, you can actually physically “mouse” your way through the galleries via an interactive online museum tour, or scroll through three online exhibits and 15,000+ artistic works.

Vatican Museums

While sheltering-in-place, the options for online exploration are limitless. Traverse internationally across the interwebs to place yourself via computer into the Vatican Museums in Rome, Italy. Explore the Sistine Chapel, impressive architectural details, intricate murals and an astounding array of artwork via their online virtual tours featuring expansive, 360-degree views. Afterwards, you can even take an “outdoor stroll” around the Vatican City with You Visit.

Picasso Museum

In keeping up with our love of Picasso, we recommend spending a few hours online at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain. A seemingly-endless digital archive of Pablo Picasso’s most renowned works is accompanied by some of the best-preserved Medieval architecture in Barcelona. Enter the museum through its ancient and rustic patios to discover the digital treasures within via this digital interactive tour.

Art Institute of Chicago

Missing visits to your local favorite? Have no fear, because the Art Institute of Chicago is bringing the comforts of a familiar gallery to your couch. Their array of online resources include ways to surf the entire museum collection, new and highly-detailed interactive features, a digitized version of their current special exhibit and more. 

As we continue to spend our days at home, virtual trips to explore the arts and culture provide a much needed vibrant reprieve. Stay tuned for more Optima features on how to stay engaged, connected and inspired at home. 

The Evolving Phoenix Skyline

When Optima expanded to its Arizona office in 2000, everything about the landscape was foreign — from the arid climate and lush desert vegetation, to the way the city developed. Our business has taken roots in the state since then, allowing us to tackle new architectural frontiers and new design languages, and also allowing us to witness the explosive expansion and evolution of the Phoenix city skyline.

The Polycentric City

Known as the Valley of the Sun for its sprawling, multi-city metropolitan layout, Phoenix has never been defined by a dense city skyline — but that’s been swiftly changing. As a city that covers 520 square miles, Phoenix was designed to optimize for automobile travel, with a highly advanced freeway system that made out-of-town commuters able to get to and from work in as little as 20-30 minutes, a rarity for most cities.

In response to rapid growth, the city developed a “village” system in the 1980s, aiming to create several urban hubs — rather than one, centralized locale — where businesses could thrive. Since then, fifteen urban villages have emerged in the polycentrically planned city, such as the successful pocket at 24th and Camelback Road, where Optima Biltmore Towers is located.

Onwards and Upwards

As businesses continued to naturally gravitate to a “downtown” core, particularly after the introduction of the light rail in 2008, Phoenix recognized the need to reconsider zoning codes and encourage height and intentional growth in downtown Phoenix. Zoning codes evolved in 2010 and 2015 along the light rail track, and with the code modifications and the city opening its arms, the downtown area began to rise.

Now, 18 of Arizona’s 20 tallest buildings are in downtown Phoenix, including the 40-story Chase Tower which rises to a total of 438 feet. The U.S. Bank Center, designed in the Modernist International Style, is among that list too. While impressive skyscrapers and highrises have begun to fill in the skyline and build out a bustling and thriving downtown, we’re still able to catch glimpses of Camelback Mountain, maintaining the true-to-Arizona-style balance between the built and natural environment.

Sculpture Spotlight: Windsong

A striking piece that complements the surrounding green space at Optima Camelview Village, Windsong creates a bold statement that both contrasts with and engages its environment. As with Kiwi, Duo and other original Optima sculptures, Windsong was designed by David Hovey Sr., and today we dissect its form and how it integrates into a larger context.

To stand out against its colorful backdrop, Windsong stands more than 15 feet tall, providing a dramatic addition to the Arizona desert foliage. The sculpture is oriented around a rotating turntable, allowing the top pieces to move with the flow of the wind. Through movement and size alone, Windsong celebrates and embraces the elements, subtly alluding to Scottsdale’s connection to and love of nature. 

With a mixture of color and shapes, Windsong also evokes a playful and enthusiastic energy. Each piece of the sculpture is composed of both sharp corners and rounded edges, a culmination of form that emits joy. 

Optima’s passion for public art, both inside and outside our building, is a reflection of our dedication to engaging, beautiful spaces. Whether it’s through architecture, design or sculpture, we’re in constant pursuit of creating meaningful homes that have a lasting impact. 

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