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Architecture Designed Just For The Tropics

After graduating from Cornell, Maricarmen Martínez decided to prove that a woman could succeed in architecture.


31 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Award-winning architect Maricarmen Martínez warded off many naysayers on her path to her profession. ''I was told I couldn't really be an architect,'' recalls the Puerto Rican native.

Her interest started soon after her family moved to the Dominican Republic. ''At about age 4 I used to wonder why roofs didn't fall,'' she recalls.

``I'm fascinated by the statistics on women architects. In schools you see that they are graduating over 50 percent women but in practice you have less than 15 percent. What's even worse is that the number of women who have their own practice is very low.''

After attending the University of Florida and spending a year abroad at the Vicenza School of Architecture in Italy, Martínez earned her architecture degree from Cornell University and decided to prove the naysayers wrong. In 1994, she opened Upstairs Studios atop an avant-garde theater in Coral Gables. She was only 26.

''My early years in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo have greatly influenced my work in the connection to the context and the use of vernacular material. One of the things that I try to do architecturally is instill a sense of place,'' she says.

Upstairs Studio, now in the Design District, has flourished. Commissions have taken the firm all over the globe. Locally, the focus is on high-end residential and commercial projects, including the headquarters for the Cisneros Capital Group and Casa Casuarina. ''We tackle projects as small as a kitchen renovations and as large as a high rise,'' Martínez explains.

Current projects include the De la Cruz Art Space in the Design District, a combination storage space and gallery for art collectors Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, as well as Seven Flats, a multifamily structure on Northeast 35th Terrace that, according to Martínez, ``is not only mixed-use but also a kind of vertical economic scale: people from all walks of life.''

Martínez serves as co-chair of the Bicentennial Park Design Committee, treasurer of the Dade Community Foundation, and is the recipient of the AIA Public Service in Architecture Award.

''I love a quote by Winston Churchill,'' Martínez says. 'We shape our cities and afterward they shape us.' '' It was through her involvement in civic advocacy that she met her husband, Neal McAliley, an environmental attorney.

As for the early naysayers, she reflects, ``I've always seen adversities as advantages. As a Latin female in architecture school I had a fresh perspective and a story to tell.''


Name: Maricarmen Martínez

Company: Upstairs Studio, 3850 NE Miami Ct., Miami; 305-573-1400 or

Personal: Born in Puerto Rico, raised in the Dominican Republic and Miami

Education: Earned her architecture degree from Cornell after studying at the University of Florida and at the Vicenza Institute of Architecture in Italy.

Design philosophy: I see architecture as a collaborative effort. Architecture is an art of creation and you may feel a sense of ownership over it, but I understand whom I'm doing it for and whom I'm doing it with.

Inspired by: Le Corbusier, Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and The Sarasota School, a mid-century movement in Florida -- ``They understood the context and the climate, while at the same time embracing what architecture had to offer at the time.''

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