If there is any architect of the modern dream house, it has to be Vasco Vieira. The South African architect, who is based in Portugal, creates homes that feel like a modern-day version of an upscale, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired dream home.
“Throughout my career, I have always sought to convert unreachable dreams into constructed realities,” Mr. Vieira said.
Since setting up his own practice, Vasco Vieira Arquitectos, in 2003, he has worked on luxury residential projects on almost every continent in the world—from Brazil to Germany and Japan—and has received a number of awards for his designs.
His latest project is Akai Estates, a collection of 16 luxury homes in Southwest Ranches, Florida, with prices starting at $7.5 million. The modern, minimal designs for Akai combine tropical ease with countryside privacy, all the while easily accessible to Miami and Fort Lauderdale (there’s even a helipad, onsite).
He spoke to Mansion Global about his favorite designers, his influences and the design quote he lives by.
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Mansion Global: You seem like an expert at designing the ultimate luxury villa. What is your approach?
Vasco Vieira: In terms of our project, our clientele, our focus is high-end properties. I’m out to maximize indoor and outdoor living. The fundamental thing is going to the location, understanding it, and how to orient it, we’re pioneers of contemporary architecture in Algarve. I’m into connectivity, indoor-outdoor living.
MG: Is your architecture influenced by Portuguese design?
VV: It has both South African and Portuguese influences, South African minimalism, but Portuguese simplicity and minimalism. The typical Portuguese architecture is to build forms and work the functional aspects into that. I’m a fan of creating the functional aspects of a building and then making the architecture work with that. Form follows function.
MG: What has been your approach to your first project in the U.S., Akai Estates?
VV: When I first visited Miami, I felt it was contemporary but felt there was a lack of understanding of quality contemporary architecture. I felt we could add more quality, refined design. Also, more quality to the actual build. The construction quality was not there. In Portugal, the design is good but so are the finishes.
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MG: What are some of the growing demands or trends you have seen among luxury home buyers?
VV: Fundamentally, people are becoming more concerned with the environment and ecological issues. People want good sun exposure, solar protection and we adapt the design to the climate. The other thing, since the pandemic hit, people are more inclined to [want] private locations, rather than high-rise buildings. Before it was about penthouses, but now there has been a move to a high-end villa that is almost like a small hotel, like a private oasis. If you look at some of the villas we do, they have all the same amenities as a hotel—pool, gym, spa, cinema. The homes are so you don’t have to go out.
MG: It almost sounds like five-star hotel living has been enmeshed with luxury homes.
VV: Exactly. During and after the pandemic people have grown to appreciate that lifestyle where you have your own private oasis, your own peace and quiet. Not a rushed lifestyle. They’re working from home, going away for weekends. So, it’s the opposite of how it was before, whereas before it was going to the rural homes on the weekends, there has been a shift.
MG: What eco-friendly material is the most popular in architecture today?
VV: Going local, using local materials. Trying to maximize local materials. In Portugal we designed the first eco-hotel, which won several awards. The stone is all local stone. The heating and cooling systems are also very special, you have to be careful how a building consumes energy. But the most important is trying to use local materials, local manpower to make it eco-friendly, too.
MG: Are you a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright? That’s what I see in your villas.
VV: Yes, you hit the nail on the head. My biggest inspiration has been Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier. They were the pioneers of modernism. I always loved Wright how he adapted houses to the terrain. It’s so the home reflects the property owners.
MG: What is your own personal definition of luxury?
VV: People are finally starting to understand what true luxury is, it’s what people took for granted. Simple things in life. Having a moment to enjoy yourself. A home cooked meal, now that has become the new luxury. It isn’t the showy, gilded things. If we use natural materials, that’s luxury. It’s not about synthetics.
MG: Is there a design quote you live by?
VV: Mies Van Der Rohe said: “Less is more.”
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MG: How do you stay inspired?
VV: Traveling is important, we do projects globally, I’ve done projects on every continent except Australia. Each experience teaches you something new. Dealing with different cultures. I just finished homes in Brazil, Dubai, Germany, Holland and Africa. Each home design teaches me about home and how it’s understood in different cultures.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.