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Project 01


The client for this building had been given a grant to partially fund this building by the federal government’s Head Start Program.  The client, the Community Action Agency of Miami-Dade County government, wanted a different kind of building.  They did not want it to look institutional, especially on the inside. ​

I, Maria Luisa Castellanos, the principal of the Miami architecture firm, United Architects, knew the history of the site.  Next to us, 8'-0" away from us, on the west side of our property, was a building that won design awards and was published in Progressive Architecture in the 1980s.  I wanted to make sure that our building, not only honored the existing building, but also blended in some way with the existing structure.

​The original building was a play of curves and rectangles, so our building took its key from the original building and continued with this scheme.  The exterior of the building has many curves while at the same time, the main body of the building is a practical and functional rectangular building.  The building is divided into three parts.  The center of the building houses the offices, employee lounge, and conference room.  There is a waving, meandering corridor around this area.  At the request of the client, none of the walls of the corridor are straight.  Then, on the other side of the corridor are the classrooms, kitchen, and lobby. 

The kitchen is a complete commercial kitchen, although they planned to cater the food.  However, they wanted the kitchen to be fully functional, in case they changed their minds and wanted to cook on the premises in the future.

The regular classroom windows face the east and south, for the best natural sunlight possible.  The lobby with its high ceiling faces north.  The sun rarely comes in from the north in South Florida so this is a good exposure for an area with much glass.  The windows throughout are shaded with wide curving eyebrows protecting them from direct sunlight.   Each classroom has an individual handicap-accessible toilet facility for the students.  In addition, there are separate toilet facilities for visitors and staff.  Outside the building, there is an extensive playground for the children with a bench that mimics the curves of the building next door.

​This building is just over 14,000 square feet of new construction, almost $3.5 million in construction cost.


When I went to the county’s Zoning Department to verify the zoning, the supervisor there told me that the area was zoned for RU-1 and if I wanted to build a single-family residence, I could, otherwise I could not build anything else.  You can imagine my disappointment.  I had just signed a contract for a multi-million-dollar facility and now this man was telling me I could not build it.  I immediately contacted my project manager with the county.

My project manager made a few phone calls and then called me back.  As it turned out, the area had an overlay district zoning.  So, with that, the county had to convene a special committee to oversee and determine the actual setback and other zoning issues.  The setbacks for this special overlay district called for 50’ of setback near any single-family homes.  Well, if we situated the building 50’ from the side property line, then there would be almost no site left.  This would be an unworkable situation.

However, the county soon took care of this problem.  When they convened the committee, they allowed themselves to locate the new building 25’ from the side property line.  With that, we immediately started the design process. This process took several meetings with another committee the county established from the Community Action Agency.  Once the design was established, we started working with the civil, structural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical engineers.  Once the team finished the construction documents, we submitted all the plans to the Miami-Dade Building Department.  Unfortunately, at this point, we just weren’t getting the plumbing plans approved.  I had to go down there personally and find out what was going on.  Once we were able to establish the problem and correct it, the next day we had our approval.

But then, a new problem arose.  While we were designing the building, the City of Miami Gardens had been incorporated, now they too wanted to review the plans.  Several months passed again.  Again, I had to go to that city and find out what was the holdup.  Once we were able to determine the issue, we immediately fixed the problem, and the permit was ready for issuance to a general contractor.

We had several bidders interested.  We had a pre-bid conference.  Soon thereafter, we selected the low bidder and started the construction process.  About a year later, the project was completed.

I did not pick the exterior colors.  In fact, my drawings showed a grayish-white building color, but the client changed the color during the construction.  The building has “fun” colors, but dark colors fade quickly, and I don’t recommend those colors except for a few accents here and there.

​Soon after construction was completed, the building was turned over to a non-profit to operate the building. I visited the building and was told that they were so pleased with the building that they called it “The White House”, in honor of our president’s house.

If you would like to build a new pre-school, or any commercial building, call me, Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP, the principal of the firm, 305-439-7898.


Floor plan of pre-school building by United Architects
This is the rear view of the Ophelia Brown-Lawson Pre-school facility
Rear and view of the new pres-school
It is another view, in addition to the one at the top, of the front entrance facade of pre-school
Interior reception desk of the Ophelia Brown-Lawson Pre-school
Drawings of the 4 elevations of the pre-school
Front view of canopy entrance of pre-school


If you want to discuss the school or pre-school you are planning, please call Maria Luisa Castellanos on her cell phone at 305-439-7898 or email at 

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