Sandra Diaz-Velasco can still smell the wood. As a child growing up in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, she watched as her grandfather, a carpenter, carved for hours. “He was very talented and no matter how busy he was, he would always find the time to carve pieces for everyone in the family,” recalls the principal of the 11-year-old EOLO Architecture and Interiors.
She tells me this as we’re luxuriously ensconced in a Lamborghini Urus, paused at a traffic light in the Design District. Simultaneously, we glance at the SUV’s rich interior wood finish. “He would carve our beds, dining tables and living room sets from mahogany, cedar and holly,” she says. “It was my grandfather who taught me about love of craftsmanship.” Thus, the education of an architect began.
Santiago de Cali rests in a valley, lavished by sun and wind. “Nature surrounded us,” Diaz-Velasco says.
Cali’s streets and parks were full of trees, often the same type of woods that her grandfather shaped in his shop, and everywhere the tree branches were dripping with ripening fruit. “After school, right next to the entrance, street vendors would get rich from middle and high schoolers buying mangoes to eat with salt on our way back home,” she remembers.
Diaz-Velasco painted horses and family portraits; in time, she began to move from two dimensions to three. During her architectural studies at Universidad del Valle in Colombia,
the textures and colors of Cali informed her work, and increasingly, she returned to organic shapes, especially curves.
“I got my curves from grandpa,” she says. “He taught me that woods are strong and noble, and would accommodate soft curves and fine details. Nature’s soft shapes and outlines became reflected in my design approach.”
The formal part of Diaz-Velasco’s education provided lessons in the ways that pieces flowed and moved; it taught her to appreciate the shape of a stone table, and the lines and planes of a luxury car. She remembers that at architecture school, her signature became well-known. “’Organic-and-full-of-curves’ became my architectural style,” she says. “They used to call me ‘Miss Smile.’”
SET IN STONE
“Miami is really coming to life in terms of design,” Diaz-Velasco says as we circle Palm Court. “As a designer, I feel lucky to be able to pop in to Ornare, the Rug Company, Cosentino, Minotti, Ligne Roset, Jalan Jalan and Baxter. And while the Design District is about luxury, it’s also beyond luxury. It’s bringing communities together. I love the performances in Palm Court — it’s such an integration: art, design, music and food. It’s inspiring. It’s creating a new Miami culture.”
A few blocks away, we pull up to the country’s sole Citco showroom to check in with General Manager Mohamad Radhi about some design proposals. It was a few years ago at the Milan Furniture Fair that Diaz-Velasco was introduced to Citco, the bespoke stone company — coincidentally, she discovered a mirror with a marble ring called Eolo, the same name as her firm.
Her instant rapport with Radhi resulted in the two collaborating for CasaCor, the prestigious annual Miami design exhibition. “He always says that he likes how I roll up my sleeves and get to work,” Diaz-Velasco jokes.
“It’s true,” Radhi says. “Sandra really impressed me because she’s all about work, yet she has a great way of interacting with her clients. And in her very personable way, she comes across as a designer, but also as a great architect, with terrific listening skills.” When the two met, Radhi had just started with Citco and immediately signed on for the CasaCor installation.
For the exhibition, the architect had to create a room, so she selected a Zaha Hadid coffee table and several other Hadid pieces from Citco. Hadid, the legendary global architect who died in Miami in 2016 (and the only woman to win the Pritzker Prize), is an idol of Diaz-Velasco’s. “She was such an inspiration to me,” she says, “how she approached shapes, form and function. When I started my career, my aesthetic was very similar — curvaceous, evoking the human form.”
The Diaz-Velasco/Citco project was a great success. Visiting Citco’s factory and headquarters in Verona exposed Diaz-Velasco to even more of Hadid’s work with the Italian brand. “Hadid was probably the first major architect Citco worked with,” Radhi says. In the showroom today, Diaz-Velasco is drawn to Hadid’s massive Luna table. “It’s literally carved out of one piece of stone,” Radhi explains. “The beauty is across, underneath, on top. It’s everywhere.”
On the way to Wynwood, DiazVelasco opens the Urus up, and we both notice that the vehicle’s shift among its different modes — street, sport and race — is incredibly seamless.
If we don’t quite test the car’s 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, we come pretty close. (Javier Roque of Prestige Imports characterizes the Urus’ drive as “refined aggression.”) We slow down, scanning the neighborhood’s famed street art.
“This is my connection to the local culture,” Diaz-Velasco says. “Our community speaks through these amazing murals and these colors.”
We park in front of a particularly expressive mural, black and white, with a vivid touch of turquoise.
“It’s futuristic,” Diaz-Velasco says. “This was one of the Basel House murals. They lit it up and projected on it during Wynwood’s Basel House week.”
Positioned in profile against the mural’s giant faces and hands, the Urus’ assertive angles announce themselves. The vehicle features inversions and cuts where you don’t expect to see them, especially on an SUV. (Those sharp angles appear even on the 22-inch Nith wheels with their diamond polish finish.)
But then again, this is a Lamborghini, the car most synonymous with Miami. The Urus says luxury, excitement — and I want your eyes on me.
Unsurprisingly, Diaz-Velasco is taken by the cockpit’s curves. “The interior design of the car wraps your body,” she says. “And everything inside is welcoming to the touch.”
That would include not just the wood finishes, but also the natural leather, aluminum, and the hand-stitched burnt sienna Alcantara®, a tactile faux suede you can’t help but caress.
The Paraiso skyscrapers rise in the windshield as we approach Edgewater. One of Diaz Velasco’s favorite projects is a three-bedroom condo inside One Paraiso, the elegant 53-story tower developed by Related Group and designed by renowned architect Piero Lissoni.
For longtime clients, Diaz-Velasco created a home that’s warm, beachy and modern, with surprisingly textured walls.
“I installed cork wall panels from New Zealand, and I used neutrals with punches of yellow to contrast with the spectacular bay views.”
She notes that even though a direct sea vista can be overwhelming, and interiors shouldn’t try to compete with the gorgeous water, “people live there and have to enjoy themselves. It’s like an orchestra where all the instruments have to play together so the symphony is beautiful.”
Back on ground level: As the day turns dusky over cocktails at Amara, Diaz-Velasco turns pensive— and grateful. She is grateful for her handsome husband, the architect and general contractor Jose Andres Velasco, with whom she often collaborates. “And I am very thankful for this city, to be able to practice my passion,” she says with evident emotion as the sky darkens over Biscayne Bay.
“It’s hard to imagine having the kinds of opportunities I’ve had anywhere else. My story could only happen because of the amazing people behind the growth of the city and the people behind the brands that I work with.” With that, we toast our dynamic, multicultural melting pot where everything revs fast and the world comes to play —and create.