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Interview with Architect Wesley Kean, Founder and President of KoDA from Miami Beach

Wesley Kean is an architect who believes that the client is an important part of his team during the design process. KoDA Architecture is developing projects in South Florida and overseas with this philosophy. I talked with Wesley Kean, Founder and President of KoDA.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wesley Kean

Wesley Kean


by Meryem Aksoy

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One of the advice he received from his father has shaped his architectural approach. Wesley Kean has studied in Miami and Rome, and after his graduation in 2010, he has gained experience in both architecture and management, for five years. In 2015, Wesley Kean founded the award-winning architectural firm KoDA that's based in Miami Beach, Florida. Creativity and teamwork are fundamental values of KoDA. I talked with Wesley Kean, Founder and President of KoDA, about his career and architectural approach.

Wesley, when did you discover your passion of architecture that took you to the drawing table? Who or what inspired you?

I found my passion at a young age. My father is a carpenter where I grew up, in New Hampshire, and I quickly fell in love with the craft of making things. The idea that lumber, a piece of nature, could be refined and assembled with others to create something useful was very interesting to me. It’s how I view architecture today.


KoDA - Tradewinds Residence

How did your apprenticeship period, with your father in New Hampshire, affect your current architectural approach?

My father used to always say, “measure twice, cut once!” I apply the same philosophy to design. We measure using analysis of the site, program, culture, etc. and evolve the ideas into architecture from there. Skipping past the “measuring” phase would yield a completely meaningless architecture, in my opinion.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in architecture?

Very quickly, I learned that architecture was more than a construction and development industry. Studying in Miami and Rome, I learned about the power of architecture to impact lives on a broader level. Through my career and working on projects around the world, I’ve understood the weight of responsibility that comes with design and its impact on communities. The fact that ideas have the power to change the world is what gets me up and excited to go to work every day.


KoDA - Aviation Design Center

Could you tell us about your educational background, and the first years of your architectural career? What were the most important experiences you have learned in the firms you worked in?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from the University of Miami in 2010. In the spring of 2009, I studied in Rome through Miami’s Urban Design, Theory and History of Architecture Program. Shortly after, I mentored with renowned architects Terrance Riley and Allan Shulman, as well as landscape architect Raymond Jungles. Graduating at that time was difficult for any profession, let alone architecture. This was directly after the recession of 2009 and jobs were few and far between. It was a time when many of my fellow students went into different professions to avoid low-paying jobs. It’s through these times that I found that the best ideas result in the best opportunities. Architecture is the single profession where the strength of your portfolio can get you hired, even when times are tough. This profession doesn’t discriminate based on age or experience. If you have the drive, show commitment and are dedicated to learning and collaborating ideas, then you will be very successful, very quickly.


KoDA - Kiaora Residence Aerial View

How did living in Italy affect you in terms of architecture? How would you define your architectural approach?

Studying in Rome was an awakening experience as an architect. It’s a city made up of layers upon layers of architectural history. In the words of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, “Rome is one enormous mausoleum. There, the past lies visibly stretched upon his bier. There is no today or tomorrow in Rome; it is perpetual yesterday”. As a young student, there is no better foundation from which to conceive the future of architecture. Our approach to architecture has been influenced by this experience as well. Rome is a showcase for just how permanent buildings can be. These aren’t things that are temporarily erected, but rather permanent structures that impact cities and their context for generations. It’s because of this that we spend a considerable amount of time analyzing and evaluating the social, cultural and environmental impacts of a site. We strive for a design aesthetic that is timeless, rather than following a particular trend.


KoDA - Etnia Barcelona Miami designed by KODA photo by Robin Hill (c)

Why did you decide to establish your own firm?

I had completed my time with apprenticeships and definitely learned a lot. That’s a very critical part of our profession, to give back to those who come after us. I felt that I had my own design identity to share with the world. Working under other architects tends to filter these ideas through their vision. I wanted to share my own. Plus, now I get to pursue projects that I’m personally passionate about, like our Marine City Miami project.

Could you tell us about KoDA, and your team?

The studio is a center for creativity. Each member of the design staff is also a project manager, a draftsperson, and most importantly, a critical thinker and designer. We use the power of collaboration to work through challenging design issues, holding frequent charrettes to innovate and come up with new, fresh ideas. There is a lot of respect within the office. I’m a big believer in the duality of the profession. Older, more experienced staff has extensive knowledge in the field and technical aspects of the profession. However, younger staff is very quick learners and come equipped with knowledge in the latest and greatest software. The balance of these two attributes makes our office always relevant.


KoDA - Ocean Residence

Which type of projects does KoDA specialize in? What type of services do you offer your clients?

We specialize in offering creative solutions to spatial and programmatic challenges. This specialty can be applied to all scales and types of architecture, from small retail or residential commissions all the way to large urban projects. We provide design services at every level such as architectural, interior, urban and construction phase services.

Could you tell us about the awards that you won?

We were recently awarded with 2 honor awards of excellence from the Miami Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. A few months prior to that, the Florida AIA awarded us the Merit Award for an office building we designed. It’s always humbling to receive awards among other colleagues that we respect and admire in the profession.


KoDA - Tradewinds Residence Pool

What are the advantages of being an Award-Winning architect?

I would say that this lets future clients know that we’re credible, and good at what we do. However, our biggest attribute is that our former clients can speak to our ability to make the process enjoyable. Architecture can be stressful, but it should always be enjoyable!

What is your signature in your projects? What are you paying attention to make your projects unique?

We believe that form follows nature. Each building is developed with an ambition to give back to nature as much as it has taken away. We fundamentally believe that architecture serves to reconnect us with nature, not to isolate us from it. We are thought leaders in finding radical solutions to sea level rise. We believe that, as architects, we have a responsibility to think progressively as the shaping of our cities has the power to ultimately shift our evolution.


KoDA - Etnia Barcelona Miami designed by KODA

What is the importance of communication between the client and the architect to realize a successful architectural project?

We believe that the client is the most important member of the design team. We engage our clients into the design process strategically, as a part of the formula to produce unique and distinctive architecture. Each client has his or her own personality and identity. We try to channel that, along with a lot of other contextual analysis into a building, interior, environment or experience. The result is always a unique architectural project that stands on its own.

Is it still important to make cardboard models for your projects? Or do you use digitalization in every stage now?

I’ve always been a pencil and trace paper kind of architect. No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga, in fact. That said, pencils, pens, 3D printers, 3D software, etc. are all tools in an architect’s toolbox. I believe it’s important for the architect to use whichever tools work best to build the idea. Our studio has and implements all of these tools, depending on the project. We also build models for all of our projects. I’m of the opinion that using only the computer makes us skip a critical step of really thinking through things. Tools like the pencil, or physical models slow us down enough to really think through what it is that we’re proposing and its overall impact on the project. It also usually points out a design opportunity that we would have otherwise missed.


KoDA - Parkway Residence

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

Our favorite projects are ironically the most challenging ones. Projects that are complicated tend to yield the most distinctive results. I enjoy working on all of our projects and am very grateful for the opportunities we’re given.

What would you recommend to customers who want to work with an architect to build their new home?

My recommendation would be to try and enjoy the process. It’s very rare that one gets to design and build their dream home and this should be a very exciting time in your life.


KoDA - Kiaora Residence

Where is the most popular location for new residential projects in Miami? How could you describe the architectural culture of Miami?

Most people want to be on the water. It is part of the reason why living in South Florida is so beautiful. However, there are other aspects of this sub-tropical climate that can be appealing. For example, there aren’t many other climates in the world that offer year-round outdoor living. Incorporating the experience of nature within your home has the power to increase your happiness, health and overall well-being. The culture of architectural design seems to be a race for the most radical building. We believe that simple is the new “radical.”

How can our readers follow you and your projects?

The easiest way to see our work and the process associated with it, is on our website, There we have narratives, diagrams of the ideas and project photos. We also run an online blog through our website where we are always sharing our latest ideas on design and architecture. We are also very present on social media. You can follow us at @kodamiami


KoDA - Parkway Residence Pool

What is coming up next for you?

We’re working on a very exciting project in Downtown Miami. It’s a solar pavilion for the Bayfront Amphitheater. Given the amphitheater is in the city’s main park, we wanted it to have a minimal impact on the existing landscape. It serves the purpose of a roof by projecting a retractable fabric canopy but also becomes an iconic symbol for the city, rooted in the cities rich cultural and historic identity.

Anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?

I’m involved in several important charities in the city including the Make a Wish Foundation and the Miami Music Project. As a part of a creative campaign for the latter, we’re developing an art exhibit for Art Basel that can be viewed by the public. It’s a part of the RAW pop-up event and will celebrate the Miami Music Project’s initiative and success in the community. I feel strongly that the world needs more creative people involved in charities. You’d be surprised to know how much these organizations value creative ideas. You can see more about what we’re up to by following us @Kodamiami

Thank you Wesley for this enjoyable interview.

For more information, please visit the website of KoDA