By: JEAN NAYAR
Weaving a touch of the tropics with the ground-breaking modern design, architect Ralph Choeff and his partners expand their mark throughout South Florida and beyond.
Cruise through the waters surrounding Miami Beach and the nearby islands, and chances are a good share of the standout waterfront homes you’ll see were designed by architect Ralph Choeff and his partners Raphael Levy and Paul Fischman. “Most of the residences we’ve designed are located in Miami Beach,” says Choeff, who founded his firm here in 1983 shortly after graduating from architecture school in New York. “I believe my firm has greatly influenced the architecture in Miami and Miami Beach.”
Followers of the architectural evolution of this city—and fans of Choeff’s widely emulated warm and inviting modern style—would surely agree. Known for creating stunning single-family residences in desirable locations in the area, Choeff’s emphasis on optimizing every home to suit its site with an accent on luxurious indoor-outdoor living has made him an architect of choice for affluent titans of industry, celebrities, and athletes. Choeff counts baseball stars Alex Rodriguez, Asdrúbal Cabrerain, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Giovani Bernard as some of his well-known clients.
Choeff’s exposure to great architecture began as a child in Havana, Cuba, where he was born, and expanded while growing up. “My family escaped Castro and landed in Israel for a couple of years before we moved to Miami, then to Brooklyn when I was about 11 years old,” says the architect. “I really started paying attention to the buildings around me, especially the modern ones like the Lever House and Seagram’s Building, while I lived in New York City,” says Choeff of his early years. He credits an art class he took as a senior in high school for sparking his interest in the creative process, and later some friends who attended Pratt Institute for inspiring him to apply to its architecture school. “I put together a portfolio of very crude work and, luckily, I got accepted,” he says. “The same attitude that drove me in college drives me now.”
Thanks to an early commission from a prominent developer to design a modern residence in Miami Beach, the architect got off to a strong start shortly after he launched his firm and began to hone his own style, which he refers to as “tropical modern.” Now very much in demand, the style blends mid-century modern elements with materials common to the tropics. “They warm up and breathe life into modern architecture,” says Choeff, who points to sustainability as another tenet of his ethos—all of the firm’s residences larger than 7,000 square feet in Miami Beach meet or exceed LEED Gold Standards. “We also use water extensively in the form of reflecting ponds and cascading water features to further emphasize natural elements and the feeling of Zen,” he says. “I have seen many homes designed in this style and would like to think my firm helped to shape this movement and mold the future of Miami Beach.”
Indeed, his award-winning firm’s style and approach to design have not only influenced the Beach but also other parts of South Florida, where he and his partners have dramatically enhanced the aesthetic sensibility of the most prominent residential enclaves in the North Bay Road neighborhood, the Venetian, Star, and Hibiscus Islands and as well as in Tampa, Sarasota, and the Treasure Coast. Its imprint can also be seen far and wide in the Caribbean, where the architects work on projects in Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, and St. Martin. “Our process is a group effort, and I could not have perfected this type of architecture without my business partners Paul Fischman and Raphael Levy, who must be credited for taking our work to the next level,” says Choeff. “We want our clients to come home and feel like they have entered an Aman resort. Our goal is to create relaxation and calm.”