Arseni & OLGA VArabyeu keeps busy. Varabyeu Design + Partners, an architecture and design firm with offices in Coral Gables and Minsk, has a growing list of projects and clients around the world. Varabyeu’s a man in demand.
But if he ever wanted a side career, he’d make a good cheerleader for Fort Lauderdale.
“I love South Florida,” he says. “I love the quality of the life; I love what’s happening now in Fort Lauderdale.”
As developers and others continue to rethink and reevaluate what constitutes good, high-end Fort Lauderdale architecture, his firm has become one of the groups closely involved in what’s happening now. Varabyeu Partners has worked on the “Aqua” projects – Bella Vita, AquaMar, AquaLuna and AquaVita – a series of smaller condominium projects centered mostly around the Las Olas Isles area. They’ve worked on interior design for Riva, the ambitious project going up on the Middle River just off North Federal Highway. And they’re attached to other grand projects that haven’t begun yet – but that could continue the evolution of Fort Lauderdale architecture and design.
“We want to make a little more presence in the area,” he says. “We want to show to the people what we can do.”
Now’s as good a time as any for that. Look around Fort Lauderdale, and new ideas going into architecture and design quickly become apparent. There’s historical precedent for that. From Francis Abreu’s 1920s Spanish-styled elegance to Dan Duckham’s deceptively straightforward mid-20th-century modernism, Fort Lauderdale’s architectural and design standards have benefited from serious talent over the decades. But in the latter part of the 20th century, condo construction wasn’t always the height of creativity. A certain sort of condo sold, and sold well – so why change a good thing?
Now though, things are changing. As downtown becomes a higher density, more residential place – a real downtown, basically – and as waterfront condo and apartment residents rethink what they want out of that experience, new styles and functions are sought. Into that space step people such as Varabyeu.
“Miami Modern architecture has always been a white box,” he says. “We tried to avoid this, bring something warmer, and give the people something better than what developers usually do.
“What we try to offer to this market is something really calm with a really sophisticated look. We didn’t want to create an extravaganza with the interiors.”
The aim at places such as Riva is a more clear, calm and pale look that won’t be outdated in three years.
“We always stand behind the quality,” Varabyeu says. “We stand behind … the atmosphere you create inside the building.”
Varabyeu’s been creating atmospheres inside buildings all over the world for a few years now.
“I’m originally from Belarus but I’ve lived in Miami for more than 15 years,” he says. “We built up a lot of reputation and quality design over there. Right now we are bringing this quality … to develop U.S. clients.”
In Eastern Europe, the firm’s work often tends towards the large and dramatic – photos on the company website show grandly sweeping modern hotels, headquarters or public buildings. Lately the company has also got into the Mexican market, where ambitions and buildings are equally grand.
Their ambitions are also large for the U.S. – and specifically, Fort Lauderdale – but here they’ve focused more on different kinds of work. “In the United States we have been concentrating in the last few years (on) the clients seeking different ideas for interior design or design of buildings,” Varabyeu says. “What the clients like about our design is that we do something different to what other local companies can do. They say it’s because you’ve got a different backgrounds, different taste.”
Some of the difference in work is influenced by external forces. Here, the various processes involved in a large construction project can be much more time consuming. He says they can do five or six projects in Mexico in the time it takes to do one here.
“It’s hard,” he says. “It’s so slow in terms of the process.”
Another process that can take time is finding the right people to work with. Developers are under bottom-line pressure, and new ideas aren’t always welcome. He says he enjoys working with second-generation family companies. “They are the sons of the fathers,” he says. “The sons, they are trying to bring in something fresh that will light them up, but it’s very hard.”
One such company is Ocean Land Investments, the company behind the Aqua projects. Marc Andre Roy, son of company founder and president Jean Francois Roy, is heading up the projects. They are smaller, modern buildings with something about them other than the typical blank-box condo look. “That’s the quality I’d like to see in Fort Lauderdale – not just tall high buildings,” Varabyeu says.
That’s also the quality he believes he can sell. Recently, he says, he’s brought several of his biggest Mexican clients to Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami where “there is no consistency, there is no parking. Fort Lauderdale, in my opinion … can offer that. Quality, lifestyle, at the same time safety.
“You have to offer something new. That’s what we’ve been convincing our clients – you have to give something else.”