Miami continues to reshape its image and rebrand itself as a vibrant new city under the sun, part Utopia, part Dystopia, but swelling with dozens of riotous new projects, all screaming for attention. Every brand-name architect in the world came to town this week promoting yet another high-profile project like the new Miami Beach convention center and park by Rem Koolhass/OMA; and then there’s a 60-story “exoskeleton” tower and vulvic parking structure in the works by Zaha Hadid; condos by Ceasar Pelli; shimmering glass cubes by Richard Meier over the old Surf Club; twin towers shaped like dueling tornados by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels; and a science museum by Nicholas Grimshaw.
There’s something oddly pale and bone-like about many of these proposed structures, presented as they are in garish CAD renderings, as if already doomed and dried out in the sun, exploiting architecture as the mightiest of marketing tools with wildly sculptural forms, oversized balconies expanding giddily into fleckless blue skies, dare-devil verticality, shifting axes, structures revealed in all-over transparency and other forms of architectural voyeurism. The buildings are sparsely populated by slender digital figures–one percenters in tailored suits and bikini-clad super models–who appear to be enjoying a future of sexual experimentation, sunbathing and floating listlessly in electric blue swimming pools. In a rendering for one new structure, a single heroic figure stands in silhouette on a cantilevered balcony, sipping a mojito and watching the sunset over Biscayne Bay. He appears to be the Architect, the new Howard Roark in sybaritic suspension, oblivious and unaware of the rising waters and social unrest brewing down below. And within this sunny, plenoptic Fountainhead, the moody charcoal chiaroscuro that Hugh Ferriss popularized in his Depression-era renderings, has been replaced by a completely shadow-less empire awash in waves of translucent blue pixels.
As Miami’s skyline rises higher with glassy phallic towers, the city continues to sink at ever alarming rates. On any given day, you can find areas that are already under water, depending on the tide and lunar cycle, yet there was hardly a mention of “green” or climate change all week, except for the engulfing sand dune (above) at the entry to Design Miami that was designed by Garrett Ricciardi and Julian Rose of formlessfinder and hinted at some sort of cataclysmic event. “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed,” said Harold Wanless, chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.” Environmental scientists predict that by 2030–only 16 years from now–the sea will have risen more than two feet and as much as six feet by the end of the century or even sooner, thereby creating a Bling-Miami version of Atlantis with all the flamboyant new buildings submerged. Dutch flood experts were flown in to consult and Broward County has enacted a climate change master plan, but developers in Miami Beach seem to have missed the memo.
This is all part of a trend that started way back in 2011 with Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony Hall in Miami Beach that was soon followed by Herzog & de Meuron’s high-design parking structure at 1111 Lincoln Road, an instant landmark for the “New Miami” with open-frame structure, flaring, fin-like supports, spiraling ramps and disco lighting–something between Piranesi and Lady Gaga. “We proved that a parking garage could become an interesting space,” said Jacques Herzog who proved that an über-garage could become a party space for non-parking cultural events like the “Piston Head” exhibition curated by Adam Lindemann this week with “repurposed” cars created by
artists like Damien Hirst, Richard Prince and Kenny Scharf, as well as a nicely pancaked
Fiat by Ron Arad (right). Herzog was in town to celebrate the opening of his firm’s latest triumph, the controversially named Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). It was, without question, the super-star attraction of the week. Despite a rushed construction schedule, the museum managed to open to the public on Tuesday with mounds of sand, pots of overturned palmettos, and thousands of visitors tramping over rough gravel, funneling between chain-link fencing to reach the new Jewel on the Bay, many of them wondering if it was the Swiss architects’ intent to leave building and grounds so unfinished looking, not realizing that the project was, in fact, unfinished.
Patrick Blanc–the French inventor of vertical landscaping–was frantically running around with died-green hair, green shirt, green pants, green boots and long curling fingernails, giving orders to Latino plantsmen, unnerved by the fact that they hadn’t inserted all 54,700 of the exotic plants his plan called for (including 77 local species of salvia, begonia, silver-leafed artemisia, columnea and sedum), and wondering out loud how they could be so late in getting around to finishing such an important task. I said something smug like “Welcome to Miami,” while introducing him to a young blogger from Harvard who complimented him (twice!) on the bicycle-wheel installation by Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei.
“This?” he said, spinning one of Wei Wei’s wheels in response to Holly Golightly’s misdirected compliment. “This is not me,” he said. “C’est pas moi!“
The new museum hovers lightly over Biscayne Bay with a degree of humility that is uncharacteristic for a city of architectonic hubris. It’s not an “iconic” mass or signature statement so much as an airy, dissipated assemblage of screens, slender columns, scrims and cubic volumes (containing art galleries) that float between a wooden roof “trellis” above and cantilevered terraces below. Of course, the overall effect will be greatly enhanced when peripheral gardens fill in, the public plaza and neighboring museum by Grimshaw are completed, and Blanc’s dangling gardens are lushly sprouting so that the entire structure begins to resemble the original vision of an overgrown ruin, a kind of monumental chia pet or, as Herzog described it to me, a sprawling banyan tree with multiple trunks and dangling air roots. “This isn’t some strip mall,” said PAMM’s director Tom Collins, and he’s right. “This is really sophisticated design.”
Early proposals showed pyramidal forms and stacked slabs rising vertically, as if to compete with the skyscrapers of downtown Miami, but such temptations were ultimately resisted and lower, less conspicuous forms replaced strident profiles. “Museums work better when they’re horizontal,” said Herzog who, with partner Christine Binswanger, managed to meld the 120,000-square-foot facility into place without
disrupting the messy urban vitality and natural beauty of the site at the intersection of Northeast 11th Street, Biscayne Boulevard and the MacArthur Causeway. The sea-brewed light is voluptuous, sparkling, almost iridescent with inlets and ocean on one side, skyscrapers and sprawling urban infrastructure on the other. The building sits at the very crux of a dynamic convergence between Nature and Commerce, overlooking Museum Park, the elevated tracks of the Miami Metrorail, the Venetian Causeway, the picturesque islands of Biscayne Bay and the convex shell of the American Airlines Arena (home to the Miami Heat). Cars and people movers whizz past; cruise ships come and go through Government Cut; tankers unload at the adjacent Port of Miami; jetliners stream overhead, making their final descent into Miami International. It’s as thrilling as any building site can hope to be. Now this city, famous for its short attention span, is obliged to rise to the occasion and make up for all the shortcomings in the museum’s spotty collection. To be fair, gifts have been pouring in during the past few months from Jorge M. Pérez, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Mimi and Bud Floback, Craig Robbins and Jackie Sofer, among others, but the art on the walls still pales in comparison to the architecture that enfolds it.
An international pantheon of famous architects congregated for the “Imagine the Future – Now!” power dinner at the Wolfsonian Museum on Wednesday evening, hosted by Director Cathy Leff. Her guests included Norman Foster (has he lost his “Sir” or not?), Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel, Herzog, Binswanger, Dror Benshetrit, Bjarke Ingels, Shohei Shigematsu, Enrique Norten, Laurinda Spear, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Iwan Ban, the brilliant architectural photographer who was in town to shoot PAMM. Terry Riley was at both the Wolfsonian dinner and the Design Miami tent, talking about the competition he organized for the Terra and Related development groups that included projects by Christian de Portzamparc, Nouvel, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Koolhass/OMA who were all invited to offer ideas for a mid-rise residential building on a waterfront site in Coral Gables. “Our solution was to distribute the 500,000 square feet of living between a field of slender towers,” said OMA partner Shigematsu, who turned out to have the winning scheme. The six towers in OMA’s proposal have no interior columns, which allows for uninhibitedly naked exposure and maximum views. “One of our theories is that one can offset this excessive compulsion toward the spectacular with a return to simplicity,” said Rem Koolhaas somewhat cryptically given the spectacular vanity of his own proposal. (All of the entrants’ models and drawings were unveiled this week at Design Miami as well as the book Four (4) New Visions for Living in Miami published in tandem with the exhibition.)
It would seem that old is new, yet again, and that the future lies mysteriously imbedded in the past, somehow, and yes, it says something about current design trends that some of the most noteworthy artifacts of the 2013 fairs were vintage, like the furniture that Charlotte Perriand created for French industrialist Jean Borot in the 1950s and was shown at the Laffanour Galerie booth; or the vintage Gio Ponti pieces recreated by Molenti&C at Modus Miami in the Design District; or Jean Prouvé’s “Demountable House” of 1945 that French gallerist Patrick Seguin shipped to Miami and reconstructed in the Design Miami tent. It’s the gray patina, the sadness in those weathered boards that make it so compelling and relevant for today amid so many shiny new objects at the other booths. The central structural support–a Prouvé signature “caliper” made from yellow sheet metal–further emphasizes the melancholic, refugee/concentration-camp geist of the worn wood siding on the house’s exterior, while inside an equally Spartan treatment is carried through with whitewashed walls and moody lighting from Prouvé’s own minimal fixtures.
White surgical booties were required footwear for members of the press if you wanted to get a sneak preview inside Charlotte Perriand’s Maison au Bord de l’Eau, a project based loosely on a couple of sketchy renderings that Perriand drew in 1934 for a competition organized by L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui–somewhat akin to the speck of DNA from a prehistoric mosquito being used to create a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. The house was fully reconstructed by Louis Vuitton on a sandy lot at the back of the Raleigh Hotel–a place so perfectly re-imagined, so finely constructed and finished, and now maintained by young women in blue dresses, that one had to wonder if it was real or a three-dimensional hologram. I wasn’t quite sure, even when I touched the smoothly finished walls with my own fingers. (Perhaps they should have handed out special goggles as well as the surgical booties.) Indeed, the house is more fantasy than reality: the radical modernism of Perriand has been cleansed of all social content and turned into a branding tool for the luxury fashion house of LVMH.
Inside becomes outside in the central deck that is covered by a canopy of white canvas. Below are some potted plants and reproductions of Perriand’s furniture, the Chaise Longue Pliante of 1939 and the Table Basse en Ardoise of 1934, designed specifically for the Maison. All of this served as the manicured backdrop for LV’s Spring/Summer 2014 Collection Icônes with modern, tasteful clothes based on Perriand’s sensibility, clean, minimal and refreshingly non-bling: green silk gingham long-sheath dress, gingham shorts, blue cape, striped shift and leggings, color blocked to match the furniture and architecture. Indeed, Perriand’s entire universe has been appropriated: her smiling face, her deck chairs and knick knacks, her little dream shack. As the press blurb purred: “Fresh as a breeze from the mountaintops, graphic as the stroke of an architect’s pen, the ‘Icônes’ collections for Summer 2014 invite a timeless feminine elegance…” But Perriand, who passed away fifteen years ago, never had any say in the matter and one wonders if she really wanted to be re-branded like this in our current Age of Appropriation.
Norman Foster was in town, unveiling a master plan for the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach to a throng of pink-slacked bankers, Channel-suited board members, architects, PR flacks and members of the diminishing architectural press, all gathered in a private dining room at the Delano Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Foster himself was nattily clad in a white linen suit, at peace with the world, smiling and shaking hands. “What does this building really want to be?” he said, standing at the front of the room. “‘Please help me rediscover my roots,’ asks the building. Bring in water and green the landscape, inspired by the lush vegetation of south Florida…” Spencer de Grey, Foster’s joint Head of Design, was also on hand, wearing goggle-style spectacles and explaining some of the finer points of the elegantly simple plan, which is shaped in part around a 150-year-old Ficus tree that grows in front of the museum. The deep overhang of the roof has a circular cutout to accommodate the tree while a floor-to-ceiling window in the new, multi-purpose “Great Hall” was designed to frame the majestic tree and make it the project’s “anchor and reference point,” according to the architects. “What if the poor tree dies?” asked one board member, peering into the scale model that was prominently on display. (No one seemed to have an answer.) The master plan keeps much of the original 1941 building–an otherwise nondescript, neoclassical pile with courtyard–in tact. It re-establishes the original entry from the Dixie Highway (US Rt. 1) and rotates the central axis while re-contextualizing the older galleries for the 21st Century. Four new pavilions will effectively double the museum’s exhibition space and include a reception area, restaurant, new auditorium and education area to help bring the museum into the community that it serves. “It’s a very wide palette of activities and spaces,” said Foster, pointing to the street-side plaza that features a long rectangular pool to reflect sunlight under the overhang, creating a shimmering pattern and animating the entry facade.
“Views to the beach are all perpendicular,” said Christine Binswanger (left & right) of Herzog and De Meuron, sitting on the back porch of the Raleigh Hotel with a coffee and half-eaten lemon meringue in front of her, pointing at a diagram and explaining how Jade Signature, yet another billionaire condo tower, is being built on the beach in Sunny Isles for Fortune International and scheduled to open in 2016. Binswanger is partner in charge of this 57-story cliff dwelling that looks surprisingly not unlike other condo towers but there are a few notable distinctions. The exterior surface is perforated with floor-to-ceiling glass and deep overhangs that block the sun. Partitions were designed in what she calls a “Vocabulary of Columns”, pulled and stretched to bring in human scale and alternated between units depending on the floor’s layout. The concrete forms, something like the scalloped slots of a cheese grater, express a porous and cellular surface, one that is more articulated and responsive to light and far less soulless than the reflective facades of most Miami towers. A seemingly random pattern ripples between concave and convex with sculpted cartilage supporting each corner as the building ascends to a slightly tapered top. The ground-floor clutter that usually hinders these types of buildings has been avoided by using a second-floor lobby and underground parking. Interiors are luxurious white expanses with ten- to twelve-foot ceilings and thirty percent of each floor given over to outdoor space with generously wide balconies. Each unit goes all the way through from back to front, offering both sunrise and sunset, bay and ocean views, while floors are staggered to allow for cross-ventilation, and this, emphasizes Binswanger, should alleviate the need for air conditioning during winter months.
The rest of week dissipated into a blur of extravagant cocktails and traffic jams, eating nothing but tiny spring rolls one day, three lunches, two dinners the next, a long tent on the beach with Swarovski crystals, no-show celebrities, Piotr Uklanski at the Bass, Hugo França’s sculptural benches at Fairchild Gardens, AIDS benefit, tall super models, media tours, VIP lounges, book signings, pop-up stores and fashion shows, Wynwood, the ubiquitous Craig Robins, Pulse, Ice Palace, Aqua, Nada, Scope, “Untitled” in a tent on the on beach, De La Cruz Collection, Chinese art at Rubells, wandering Lincoln Road with Ron Arad in his flip-up hat and general Miami oblivion. It was sunny and 82 degrees when I left, but Siberian-style white out when I landed back in New York.
A version of this story appeared in the Architect’s Newspaper on December 12, 2013: