The Brillhart House in Florida by Brillhart Architeture is a Showpiece for Tropical Modernism

The award winning Brillhart House in Miami, Florida is home to architects Melissa and Jacob Brillhart. The home is the result of meticulous research and contextual design that seeks to minimise impact on its location and surroundings as well as create a pavillion-like residence embodying the ethos of tropical modernism as it relates to Floridian Climate and architecture.

Here’s an extensive description from the architects, including detail drawings that highlight the porch overhangs and unique foundation.


The design for our house relies on a back-to-the-basics approach – specifically studying old architectural models that care about good form but are also good for something. Each design decision was organized around four central questions that challenge the culture for building big: what is necessary; how can we minimize our impact on the earth; how do we respect the context of the neighborhood; and what can we really build?


This 139 sqm house, which draws upon the American glass pavilion typology, Dog Trot, and principles of Tropical Modernism, provides a tropical refuge in Downtown Miami. Elevated 1.5m off the ground, the house includes 30m of uninterrupted glass – 15m spanning the length of the front and rear facades, with four sets of sliding glass doors that allow the house to be entirely open when desired. The house includes 74 sqm of outdoor living space, with front and back porches and shuttered doors along the front for added privacy and protection against the elements. These details, and the position of the house, which is at the center of a 100m+ long lot, allow the house to meld seamlessly with the site’s dense and lush native landscaping.

As owners, architects and general contractors, we physically built most of the house ourselves. Tectonics, materiality and the logic of construction became of primary interest. In a part of the country where concrete is the primary construction material, we opted for a more sustainable steel and glass superstructure, explored a combination of wood finishes, and made continued investigations into construction assemblies and innovations.


Steel and Glass Superstructure
Harking back to the optimism and experimentation of South Florida’s postwar architecture, we sought an alternative to the use of concrete and concrete only, instead exploring steel and glass as the superstructure. As a result, we wasted fewer materials, simplified the assembly, and reduced the cost and time of construction, all the while allowing for increased cross ventilation and a heightened sense of living within the landscape.

Glass and Insulation
With today’s advances in thermal qualities of glass and insulation  we were able to use the Tropical modern concepts alongside current Florida Building Code requirements. To meet and/or exceed the required R-Values, we included insulation on all six sides (icynene and rigid insulation); as well as 9/16″ thick thermal glass. We also had to design new assemblies in the process. For one, the new code just came out with requirements to insulate the floor if elevated. As this is a new requirement — we had to develop an entirely new floor detail – creating a sandwich with plywood underneath and on top of a layer of rigid insulation. Meanwhile, in order to achieve the R-Value on the roof and accommodate a slight slope, we designed a similar but inverse concept –  installing tapered rigid insulation on the roof, with a layer of plywood underneath followed by icynine below. (The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. It is expressed as the thickness of the material divided by the thermal conductivity. The higher thenumber, the better the building insulation’s effectiveness.  The design for the roof insulation resulted in a R-Value that exceeded what was required.)

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