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Interview with Maria Luisa Castellanos, President of United Architects from Coral Gables, Florida

Monday, June 25, 2018

Maria Luisa Castellanos, President of United Architects

Maria Luisa Castellanos, President of United Architects


by Beren Dere

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United Architects, Inc. is an architectural firm that located in Coral Gables, Florida and was founded in 1986. Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP is the President of United Architects. She was born in Cuba, decided to be an architect in Macon, Georgia, and she obtained Master of Architecture at Georgia Tech and she becomes the first minority woman to receive a Master of Architecture degree from the Georgia Tech College of Architecture. I talked to Maria Luisa Castellanos about to be an architect, basics of architectural projects, United Architects, and architectural vision of Florida.

Could you tell us about your 32 years of architectural career?

It's been interesting. It has been a rollercoaster – up and down and sideways. Some of the most interesting projects I got were almost by accident.

How did you decide to become an architect? What inspired you?

I always loved looking at houses and drawing as a child and a teenager. My mother, my sister, and I would love to look at model homes when I was in high school. When I took an interest test in high school, the results said that I had interests in both art and science and the only career that combines the two is architecture. So I had to convince my father that I could study architecture. He did not want me to. He said it would be difficult. He was right, but I love architecture and I have enjoyed working in the field very much!

Could you tell us about active projects of United Architects, Inc.?

Right now I am doing mostly single-family residential projects, extensive remodeling. And, soon I may be doing an apartment building.

What type of projects do you prefer? What are the differences between commercial and residential projects?

I would like to do large scale residential projects, apartment buildings. I am done with public schools in Miami. I don't like the local bureaucracy. I like doing residential projects. I feel very much at home doing them. If the right commercial project comes along, I would do it, but my emphasis now is residential and zoning. I just got my license as a Realtor and I want to sell commercial real estate and combine that with architecture. I think that I could do a great job analyzing buildings and land parcels for their maximum potential.

United Architects

United Architects

You have completed lots of successful projects. Which one is your favorite? What was its story?

I think that the Ophelia Brown-Lawson Pre-school Building is my favorite. It was a lot of fun designing it and doing the plans for them. The client actually wanted a “fun” building for the kids. I think it turned out really well. The teachers there call it the “White House” after the presidential residence because they love it so much. (It's not white, it is a multitude of colors) You can see it here: https://www.unitedarchitectsinc.com/pre-school-architecture

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

We are now in what I call the “Tear-down Phase” of Miami. People are tearing down old houses in Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, and Key Biscayne to put up new houses. We ran out of land in the better neighborhoods and so this is what is happening.

How many weeks does it take to complete an average residential project?

It depends. It depends. Are we talking about a new house or a remodeling? New houses, I would say, take about 6 months, remodeling 2 to 3 months.

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

Yes, the budget is mostly determined by the finishes. The structure is only 10% to 15% of the total budget. What makes a project low cost is using discounted finishes rather the top of the line trendy finishes. Is the client willing to compromise? I can get tile for $1.50/ square foot or I can get tile for $15 or more per square foot. I can get basic bathroom fixtures and faucets or I can get top of the line ones. Do I want to get the trendy finishes or not. To a great degree, if I am not willing to compromise, I will have an expensive project.

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

Best advise I ever received: pick your battles. Advice to give young architects: Learn to compromise on the design with your client. Your project will turn out better than you can possibly imagine! Also, take many marketing classes. Start networking as soon as you get out of school. Pick organizations you think are making a contribution and join them. Then, make sure everyone knows who you are and what you do.

Thank you Maria Luisa.

For more information, please visit website of United Architects

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