FIU Architecture alumni speak career and work in Bontena


FIU Department of Architecture alumni, Stephanie Morales Casariego and Christopher Casariego, were recently featured in Bontena, an international brand network which highlights business and company news.

The pair met at FIU while pursuing their master’s in architecture and graduated in 2007. Later, they would both realize their dream and create their own architecture and design firm, CSpace Architecture.

Beren Dere from Bontena interviewed Stephanie and Christopher where they discussed their career, work and the basics of their architectural projects.

See full interview below:

Stephanie, before talking about CSpace Architecture and Design, could you tell us about your educational background, career and architectural design experience?

I have lived in Miami my whole life and I attended Florida International University for my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Architecture from 2001-2007. This is where I met my partner/husband, Chris. The School of Architecture at FIU is a highly collaborative environment where we all as students learned not only from our professors but from each other as well. We are trained to create an architecture of the place and highly analyze the context of our projects to become a driving force for our design concepts. Every student had their strengths and we all fed off of each other. I was always the overanalytical, meticulous one and Chris was the one who was not afraid to challenge professors and had an innate ability to make designs work. All our friends would ask me what I thought about their concepts and everyone (myself included) would ask Chris to help them understand how their design can become something buildable. I truly believe it’s a gift he has. After graduation, we both worked at local architecture firms which was shortly followed by the recession. During the recession, I realized it was time to try something different and I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Store Design and Planning team at Cartier Latin America and the Caribbean. There, I learned the high standard of design and execution needed to create an effective luxury retail environment, I was also fascinated with all of the different principles on how to properly light and display products and create an environment that made the user feel as if they were in a special place. My travels also exposed me to all the different forms of construction, finishes, and environments in Latin America and the Caribbean which I found truly inspiring. I went back to architecture in 2011 and worked on various high-end homes and retail projects throughout Miami and in 2012 was on the team for Brickell City Centre at Arquitectonica.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in architecture? What inspired you?

I have always been an advocate of the arts. I was a classical musician in high school, I love performing arts, I love visual arts, and I just really love the feeling of seeing an idea coming to life. My parents encouraged me to pursue a career in architecture as a way to explore the arts and see if it was for me. The first two years I had second thoughts and was thinking of switching to music journalism. But in 2003 when we got our architecture studio at FIU and was accepted into the upper division is when I completely fell in love with architecture and realized it is where I belong. Bouncing off ideas with my colleagues and creating new ways of experiencing a building was inspiring. It may sound utopian but it’s wonderful and empowering to know that as an architect you have the skill and power to make the world a better place one building at a time. This is what keeps me going.

How did you decide to establish your own architecture and design company? Could you tell us about CSpace Architecture and Design?

When Chris and I got married in 2008 we knew we wanted to start an architecture firm together one day. On one of my flights home I came up with many names for our firm and decided on one and drew our logo. The CS in CSpace stands for our first initials. We decided to not name it directly after us because we believe architecture is a collaborative process and we also wanted to create a company that is bigger than ourselves. Chris was raised by two entrepreneurial parents and he was exposed at a very early age on what it takes to start a business, so he was eager to get us started. In 2010 Chris was working for a construction company as a project manager doing corporate and retail projects throughout the country and he decided it was time to get our business started. He took every opportunity we can get. At the end of 2013, we had our first child and Chris was getting more work. I’d help out in my free time until it came to a point in 2014 where we realized it was time for me to get on board full time and we have not looked back since.

Which type of projects does CSpace Architecture and Design specialize in? What type of services do you offer your customers?

We specialize in residential, commercial, and retail projects. We provide design drawings, selection of finishes, full construction drawings, and in specialized cases we even design displays ourselves. We work on new buildings and major remodels.

Where is the most popular location for new residential projects in Miami?

We have projects from Lake Worth to Marathon. Our most popular location for our projects is throughout Key Largo including the Ocean Reef Club.

Do you offer turnkey projects to abroad customer? At which steps should your client have to be next to you after the first moment of the project?

We often work with clients that are not from Miami and have worked remotely with our clients. This is possible due to us taking advantage of all the latest technology that we have now. We use Building Information Modeling to create all of our projects. We maximise the use of it to help our clients visualize their design through the use of in-house 3D Renderings and exporting our models for virtual reality presentations. And though we are not general contractors, we have great relationships with many contractors that can help our clients build their projects. We also offer project management services for our clients that cannot be on site during construction or need extra assistance. We also have a drone that we can use to take construction progress photos and send them to our clients.

What are the most important factors that affect the project cost?

A lot of factors affect the project cost but we can work through those issues and provide maximum value to our clients depending on their priorities.

You have lots of completed and in-progress projects. Which one is your favorite? What was its story?

One of our favorite completed projects is a courtyard home remodel at the Ocean Reef Club. We did major structural work to the home and the outcome was a beautiful, spacious airy environment for our clients to enjoy while on vacation. Using light colors and a blue metal roof gave the home a modern greek villa feel. It was a complex project where the final product was a beautiful transformation.

Construction for our favorite in progress project is set to begin in October. We are building a shipping container home in Broward County. Though the idea of shipping containers as homes has been used for many years, it is relatively new here in South Florida due to our strict hurricane codes. We worked closely with our structural, and mechanical engineer to make sure that everything meets code, is structurally sound, and properly insulated. This home is for a lovely couple who brought us this idea of having a home and guest home built with a series of shipping containers. One of the driving forces was their love for industrial and utilitarian design while balancing it with elegant touches of a high-end home. We are happy with the outcome of the design and are looking forward to its completion.

In your opinion, what is the relation between Low Budget – Short Project Time – High Quality? Is it possible to combine all in one project?

We believe that good design is possible for all projects from a small remodel to a new large home. Every project has an available time frame and budget to work with and working with an experienced Architect is important. It is our job to help the client by creating the best possible design and selecting appropriate finishes that meet their budget.

What is the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give to young architects?

A professor once told us, “Go to school where you want to work.” Going to school here in Miami has helped us establish many lifelong connections in and out of architecture that has helped us build a strong foundation and support system for our business and personal lives. I would also say to young architects is to work hard, be patient, be kind, and learn how to defend your ideas with feasible solutions.

What is coming up next for you?

We are currently in the design phase for larger scale multifamily and hospitality projects. We are growing quickly and look forward to sharing our progress with you in the near future.

For more information, please visit website of CSpace Architecture + Design

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