For Wesley Kean, the principal and founder of Miami Beach-based architecture and design firm KoDA, form follows nature. “We see architecture as a way to reconnect people with nature, because for so long architecture actually isolated us from it,” he said. “We really try to engage the user of the building with nature.”
Take a glimpse into Kean’s professional career and you’ll quickly understand why: The 33-year-old architect earned his stripes working for Miami’s visionary landscape designer Raymond Jungles, and counts Terry Riley — the former architecture and design curator at MoMA, and a past Miami Art Museum director — among his mentors. Three years ago, Kean decided to strike out on his own, jumping off those past experiences to “tell my own story in design.”
One of KoDA’s recent projects, the new Apizza Brooklyn restaurant in Coral Gables, is perhaps a perfect illustration of the firm’s research-based design process. Kean and his associates took on quite a bit of in-depth analysis, diving deep into the company’s brand and figuring out how the firm could communicate that vision through spatial configurations, materials and menu design. KoDA even read the restaurant’s online reviews. “This process allowed us to distill the brand down to its essence, and build and evolve it back into the space,” Kean said. Their findings led them straight to a familiar icon. “The brand is very tied to New York, so we spent a lot of time evaluating the city,” Kean said. “The instinct is to jump to subway tile or brick, but we took a step back and asked ourselves, ‘What’s truly synonymous with New York?’ And we just knew we had to go with a scaffolding concept.”
Kean’s team set about transforming a once-bare enclave into an industrial, loft-style den that emphasizes organic materials and conjures a cozy Brooklyn pizzeria. Rust-colored brick and exposed exhaust pipes give the restaurant a rustic feel, and wooden cabinets and metal scaffolding poles evoke the bustling pace of New York City’s streets. “We’re creating nostalgia through industrial materials and functional design,” Kean said.
Next up, Kean’s firm is focused on an office space located in an industrial strip in Dania Beach, where the firm’s signature outside-in aesthetic will truly shine with natural ventilation and plenty of foliage to maximize tranquility. KoDA is also working on a number of residential projects aimed at combatting the effects of sea level rise, a specialization at the core of the firm’s vision. Innovative, forward-thinking and integrated with their clients’ businesses, KoDA designs with ambition and optimism. “To practice architecture is to provide a service,” Kean said. “We focus on servicing our clients first, and use architecture and design to inspire them.”