03-16-23 | Department

Unique Miami Beachfront

The Design Includes Numerous Textures in a Variety of Colors that were Selected for Cohesion.
by Orlando Comas, ASLA, PLA

Set on a 50' by 300' beachfront property, this custom Miami, Florida, home was renovated with the primary focus on the natural views of the ocean. Orlando Comas, Landscape Architect, ASLA of Miami, Florida, was tasked with redesigning the landscape to the homeowner's specifications while providing privacy from adjoining properties, preventing beach erosion, and creating a central entertainment space.
Ipe pool decking was added around the 40' by 12' lap pool and the 14' by 14' shallow lounging area within the pool.
The State Legislature set a ruling that prohibits the removal of sand resulting from construction activities, therefore, large amounts of excavated sand had to remain on the site because of this ruling. Oolite steps act as wayfinding from the rear yard and the pool deck space. In doing so, the steps lead to the raised rear yard that was created to abide to this ruling as a home for the sand. Coccothrinax Alta adds height to the landscaping while Bougainvillea Spectablis add color amongst the Linope Muscari, all of which are native to the area.
Natural south Florida oolite stone is used as a retaining wall for the excavated sand from the pool area, following an Egyptian practice, called Mastabas, where gravel-filled lineal planters act as bioswales to prevent erosion, stabilizing the raised sand. The stone retaining walls were located away from the property lines and building structure to allow enough space to direct runoff and filter it through the soil into swales. The space was planted with all natives to soften the look of the blocks and appear as though the area had always been there.
This site plan shows the detail of how the Egyptian Mastabas were created, along with the stairs and the walls that form the perimeter of the raised garden.

Tucked away in Miami Beach, Florida, in the exclusive gated Altos del Mar community, this Altos Chic private residence features panoramic views of the ocean that were at the forefront of the client's mind when they decided to redesign the site in 2019. The client selected Landscape Architect, Orlando Comas, ASLA, PLA and his own brother, Architect, Ivan Kadey as the award winning design team to revamp the property.

Planning Process
The main objectives were compressed into a small wish list. The owner wanted his new home to meet municipal codes and have the narrow lot be spectacular, yet simple, and to make the natural views the focal point of the project. The homeowner also wanted the pool area to be detached from the rear yard by way of elevation changes. The pool area could serve as a central entertainment space, meanwhile, the rear yard would be focused on being an intimate family-oriented peaceful experience where the homeowner could walk among the native landscaped area.

The rear yard is sprinkled with tropical native Southern Florida plants like Bougainvillea Spectabilis and woven with walking paths surfaced with crushed shell stones over geotextile providing a natural beach feeling and look. The design includes numerous textures in a variety of colors that were selected for cohesion. An important part of the homeowner's wish list was to provide privacy from the adjoining properties visually and to also keep the outdoor speakers from intruding on neighbors beyond the property.


Coastal programs regulate activities that can cause beach erosion, destabilize dunes, and damage upland properties and are code controlled by both the city and the state. In this project, native quality sand was important because it created stability and longevity of the dune core. The State Legislature has a rule in place regarding sand and managing systems which prohibits the removal of sand resulting from excavation activities. A large amount of the excavated sand must remain on the site, which led to a very large and tall mound of sand that would make the rear yard unusable while blocking views of the beach. So, the design team worked to craft a solution that would meet all of the requirements while still creating an aesthetically pleasing and functional space inspired by ancient Egyptian Mastabas, which were relatively low, rectangular, flat-topped bench shaped burial structures, created and utilized for pre-Dynastic pharaohs or nobility of Ancient Egypt that had distinct sloping sides and were typically made of mud bricks or stones.

Based on this ancient concept, a series of retaining walls were added at three different elevation levels with 24" horizontally between each other. This design method included gravel-filled, lineal planters that act as bioswale channels that are beneficial in recharging groundwater. Each layer was planted to embellish the structure while increasing the green space.

Erosion Control
The large volume of native sand held together by the before-mentioned structure of retaining walls, created a large container of sand. Sand has the fastest infiltration rate of all soils, and this design allowed runoff water to move more quickly through the sand enhancing the environmentally sensitive design.

Added filtration was created by providing a microscale control of runoff through a perimeter swale that separates the first retaining wall layer from the property line. Grasses and herbaceous species with dense root structures cover the swales to increase filtration, stabilize soils, and retain pollutants. These methods of sustainable stormwater management, particularly with sand, provide for fast infiltration and aid in minimizing evaporation in the warm Floridian climate.

Of importance in the overall sustainable design of this project was the selection of oolite stone blocks to act as retaining walls. Miami oolite is a geologic formation of limestone along the Atlantic Coastal Ridge in southeastern Florida, near the coast in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. The location of the project is mostly in the east of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL). CCCL is an essential element of Florida's coastal management program, protecting Florida's beaches and dunes while ensuring reasonable use of the private property. An original green building material, the limestone is quarried locally and eliminates most transportation, therefore, conserves resources, and prevents pollution which supported the sustainable design requirements set forth by the client.

The oolite stone blocks also met the requirements of the city's use of only breakaway materials east of the Coastal Construction Control Line. Given Miami Beach's location and being prone to severe storms, this Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirement (see side bar) was developed so that design and construction collapse under specific lateral loading force would not cause damage to the upper building portions and its foundation.

In planting design, eighty percent of the trees used, and a large percentage of the shrubs and ground covers, are natives. Plantings were selected in a way that provided visual aesthetics and the functionality the homeowner desired, while allowing a usable rear yard area. In the palette of trees selected, five out of eight trees, in terms of species, are natives.

With most of the planted trees being natives, this landscape is environmentally friendly, climate appropriate, contributes real solutions to the problems that coastal areas face and combined with reduced grass areas, creates a sustainably responsible landscape design to be enjoyed for years to come.

FEMA developed a series of fact sheets that provide recommendations for the construction of coastal residential buildings in their Coastal Construction Fact Sheet Series with categories such as general, planning, foundations, wall systems, load paths, openings, roofing, attachments, repairs, and guide.


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