Michael Halflants has lived everywhere. Brussels. London. New York. Each has inspired his architectural work, but living in Sarasota has put him at the center of a growing community, one which he himself is helping to expand. He sat down with us to explain the process behind some of his projects, and how having a global perspective impacts it.
What brought you to Sarasota?
I was working in New York and moved down to Florida when we were expecting our first child. I got a teaching position at USF in Tampa, and ended up getting a lot of architectural projects in Sarasota. So we ended up moving to Sarasota, while I commuted twice a week up to USF to teach studio classes.
What inspired you to choose a career in architecture?
When I first started at university, I studied art, art history, painting, sociology, economy… all different types of subjects. I felt like architecture brought them all together.
Who or what are your biggest influences when it comes to your aesthetic?
Living in Brussels, looking at the work of past architects, living at the turn of the 20th century, and living in an urban environment has influenced me quite a bit. I’ve lived in Brussels, London, New York. All of them have had an impact. Last time I was in Brussels, I asked a mother where I could find a bakery, and her six-year old pointed me in the right direction. I was thinking about my own kids, and how they at that age wouldn’t know how to respond. That sense of orientation and that sense of belonging can only happen in a city like that.
How has your aesthetic changed over the years?
I think all of the work is different from one another because we tend to look at the qualities of the site and respond to that. We look at the site, the program, and try to find a solution that makes the most of the constraints. Every site, every program has a different set of constraints. What I hope is that for each project, we don’t come with a preconceived idea, so that each site is different from one another.
What is the inspiration behind Risdon on 5th?
We started with looking at the code, and asked ourselves how far we could push it based off of that. We wanted to give the people who were giving up a yard to move to a place a sense of space. All of the units have generous volume: 12 foot high living space, double high space, but all of them have a volume. They’re also separated from the ground, but we strove to still connect them to the city. With that, we included balconies and terraces so they could enjoy the view of the city or the street below. We were also inspired by the idea of community, not just for Risdon but all of our projects. We wanted to be able to clearly separate public and private, but also offer them the chance for shared interaction, like with the pool terrace on the roof.
Why did you open up shop in the Rosemary District?
We actually moved 5 times when we opened up here. The rents were good, and it’s very close to Downtown. We walk to lunch, which is quite pleasant. A lot of the buildings we were in before, here, have a lot of character. These buildings are from the 1920’s, built with a little bit more care, and more generous. Commercial spaces don’t come with 12-foot ceilings— but where we are now comes with 13-foot ceilings.
What makes the project unique?
Risdon has some type of volume within every unit, which is amazing to see a single-floor unit with 20-foot ceilings. You just don’t see that in the average space. The balcony too is functional- not just something to be there. It’s large enough to have a table and experience the view. The first floor too includes retail. It’s nice to put them together because it’s hard to put housing on the ground. Retail is hungry to be on the ground, for patrons. So having it on the first and raising the housing gives it visibility, and the housing privacy.
What separates the Rosemary District from other SRQ neighborhoods?
The proximity to Downtown. To go to Main Street, that’s five blocks away. The library is four blocks away. The city is moving towards having roundabouts on Fruitville, which will better tie Downtown with the Rosemary District. As this neighborhood is growing, we’re getting many more eateries too. Lolita, Blue Apron and Mandeville Beer Garden were already here in Rosemary, before all the housing projects started. In time, this basically will become Downtown, just based on the proximity alone.
I’m hoping that the Rosemary continues on the trajectory that it has.
What are your future aspirations for the growth of Rosemary District?
Risdon provides the ability to have a diverse group of residents from mixed incomes and backgrounds. I think that also too has the potential to bring in young professionals, as well. When the city decided to raise the density to 75 units per acre, it was incredibly successful, without raising the building height from 5 stories. I hope the city will vote to extend that, because the more structures like that we’ve got, the better this neighborhood will feel. I’m hoping that the Rosemary continues on the trajectory that it has.
What are your aspirations for the future of Halflants and Pichette?
We have one very good employee who lives in the Tampa Bay area, and is taking on the role of studio director there. We are renting another space, hoping to get additional work in the Tampa Bay area. On Tuesdays and Fridays I go up there already, so it’s natural to expand to that area. In Sarasota we’re limited by certain height and size restraints, so it’d be nice to extend to a place where we can expand on the buildings we do. In architecture, if you’re a good architect of one type, you’ll be a good architect in another building type. But sometimes you get stuck into niches. It’s hard to get into the different types- we applied to do libraries in Sarasota a few years back, after winning numerous awards. But because we hadn’t done libraries before, nobody thought we could. But we’re determined. We’ll find a way.