For the 56th installment of Design Dialogues,Surface CEO Marc Lotenberg joined architect Winka Dubbeldam and designer Dror Benshetrit in conversation about environmentally-conscious design at tile and stone purveyor Arca’s showroom in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. An overarching theme of the talk was defining sustainability in architecture, and the specific ecological initiatives each panelist is taking in their practices.
“The best thing we can do is build nothing,” said Dubbeldam, who also chairs the architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania. “But as we all know, there is an appetite for development. We can do what we did for the Hangzhou Asian Games arena, a 116-acre eco park in the city that acts like a sponge,” she says, referencing its ability to filter stormwater and retain it for reuse during dry periods. Each of the seven buildings within the park has minimal air conditioning, instead using water from restored wetlands on the site of the park to cool the structures.
“What’s really important in sustainability is to reduce the amount of resources we use and to think of things that save energy,” she said of the approach at her firm, Archi-tectonics.
“Sustainability’ is a word we need to replace,” said Benshetrit. “We need to evolve from sustainability to ecological harmony.” For him, and his design and technology organization Supernature Labs, a key aspect of that evolution is the use of bio-planning as well as regenerative and biophilic design principles to stop the destruction of natural resources in the building process. “I feel that we’ve overused that word in the sense that we cannot just wash our hands and say, ‘We’ve done a little better than the ones who were here before us.’”
In discussing the wide range of products completed by his eponymous practice, Studio Dror, Benshetrit spoke of how his work in structural design, product design, and city planning inspired him to found Supernature Labs, which takes inspiration from cellular structure to reimagine developments as we know them. “Urban populations around the world are growing rapidly, and we need to find solutions that are quite different than what we see today.”
Before the talk, guests and panelists took in Arca’s showroom, which opened to much acclaim in 2020—its facade is an original work by Danish artist collective Superflex, with vibrant ceramic tiles designed by Héctor Esrawe. The installation, titled “Like a Force of Nature,” takes inspiration from the colors of Mexican pesos, putting the showroom in dialogue with the larger artistic community of Wynwood.
Founded by Gerardo Jose Cortina Wiechers in 2001, the showroom offers a glimpse into how Arca has cultivated a reputation for premium finishes that appeal to discerning clients and industry pros looking to sidestep the sterile, uninspiring supplier experience. “It’s super impressive to walk into Arca and give a talk and have these beautiful 3-D stone sculptures here. Of course, I immediately think, ‘what can I make for my clients?’” Dubbeldam said of the gallery-like design center, a 13,000-square-foot space that houses rotating exhibitions (Including the sculptures Dubbeldam so admired, by Jorge Mendez Blake and Gabriel Rico.), videos of Arca’s stone quarries, and insight into the production processes for its wood, ceramic, tile, and porcelain product offerings. Fitting the theme of the day’s talk, Arca shared that in addition to fostering inspiration, sustainability is also a top priority: clients receive full transparency about the carbon impact of the brand’s materials.