Why Miami is an Epicenter for Design

Posted on 04 May 2015 in Miami What's New | 0 comments

Miami design enters a new era as starchitects, international art lovers, and now the Maison & Objet Americas Decorative Arts Fair flock to South Florida.

New Yorkers often like to refer to New York as the center of the universe. But if you were a top-caliber architect or designer anywhere in the world right now, you’d probably be more inclined to reserve that claim for Miami.

Thanks in part to the sophisticated international crowd that regularly attends Art Basel in Miami Beach, the demand for residences and hotels commensurate with their tastes have upped the ante on Miami’s architecture scene. Savvy developers such as The Related Group, Swire Properties, and Terra Group, who understood the value of name-brand designers as marketing tools for their new developments, began enlisting top names to create their buildings. Now, not only are there arguably more world-class architects designing luxury hotels, signature condominiums, high-profile cultural institutions, and even landmark garages here than anywhere else in the US, but flocks of wealthy North and Latin Americans, Europeans, Russians, and Chinese have been arriving in droves to partake of the first-class city Miami is becoming, partly as a result of their influence.

To sate this sophisticated crowd’s appetite for high design, new waves of furniture, product, and fashion designers from all over the globe are setting up shop in the rarefied Miami Design District as well as in the edgier and more affordable Wynwood and Ironside enclaves nearby, expanding the nexus of the design community north and south along Biscayne Boulevard. Solidifying Miami’s ascendance in the global design firmament is the arrival of Maison & Objet Americas, the preeminent French decorative arts trade show, which launches in Miami Beach this month.

Designing the Sky

Crystal-CollectionOver the past several years, a serious flock of international talent—starchitects, if you will—began shifting the aesthetic of Miami’s new buildings. They include OMA, the firm of legendary Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; New York-and Toronto-based Yabu Pushelberg; Pritzker Prize-winning London-based architect Zaha Hadid; knighted British architect Sir Norman Foster; French designer Philippe Starck; Swiss superstars Herzog & de Meuron; Italian master Piero Lissoni; and New York architect Richard Meier, to name but a few. All told, the architectural talent enriches the fabric of the city with what Coconut Grove-based architect Max Strang refers to as “the connective tissue” that links the new buildings with Miami’s rich design legacy—and its environs.

The buildings designed by these global starchitects, as well as significant local firms such as Arquitectonica, Revuelta, and Max Strang Architecture, are a departure from the ubiquitous, safe white boxes seen a generation prior, and they have initiated a movement within the real estate community to take historical, social, or environmental context more deeply into account. Part of this movement is a vibrant sense of synergy with the surroundings: sculptural building shapes that meld with both lush landscapes and an urban context. Think Herzog & de Meuron’s Pérez Art Museum Miami downtown or the firm’s Lincoln Road parking garage in South Beach, as well as Danish wunderkind Bjarke Ingels’s torquing Grove at Grand Bay towers in Coconut Grove.

A greater commitment to fine art and furniture and a livelier color palette also add more dimension to the holistic mix of ideas prevalent in top buildings, such as the SLS Lux hotel and condo designed by Yabu Pushelberg and slated for completion in Brickell in 2016. “We wanted to up the luxe quotient by creating a modernized version of old Havana with colors of Latin America—emerald greens, deep blues, and soft pinks—reviving them as a character study in a more sophisticated and exotic way,” says designer Glenn Pushelberg of Yabu Pushelberg.

At SLS Lux, the public spaces will get a lift from significant paintings and sculptures by renowned contemporary artists like Fernando Botero and Matias Duville. “People are so art centric today that it’s easier to bring in work by great artists that are recognized and appreciated,” adds George Yabu.

Art is also playing a major role in the latest project by Alan Faena, the developer of the much-touted Faena project on the Beach. The building’s developer has not only enlisted a team of top talent—including Foster + Partners and OMA—to design an exceptional condominium, but he is also helping infuse the surrounding neighborhood with a sense of community anchored in culture. “Alan Faena is known for having an art forum in mind in the neighborhoods he transforms,” says Shohei Shigematsu, the lead architect from Koolhaas’s firm OMA, which is working on part of the project. “Our project in the Faena District is a cultural center that represents a new typology that’s emerging—it’s not a museum, or gallery, or theater, or performance space, but rather one that is flexible enough to accommodate diverse art forms in a shared cultural space.”

By externalizing the structure of the building, the architects devised column-free interiors, making the space exceptionally adaptable. They also integrated the scale and accessibility of the cultural component into the urban fabric to offer walkable options for activity that bring a sense of community to the area.

Sensitivity to site and history also drove Terra Group President David Martin’s vision for The Residences at Park Grove in Coconut Grove. Shigematsu, who is leading OMA’s design of this project, says, “When we met the developer [Martin], he gave us a presentation on the history of Coconut Grove as the birthplace of the first community in Miami and highlighted its lush nature and bohemian background. Since the site of the project is on the bay at a nexus where the city grid ends, it was important that the project not become like a fortress, as so many exclusive condos do, but rather relate to the environment with a new sense of porosity.” As such, the three towers that comprise the project rise in undulating formation to reflect the “poetic organic shapes of the archipelagos and keys of the surrounding area,” Shigematsu explains.

Internal Affairs

Less emphasized yet particularly important in this new generation of buildings is a focus on protecting the planet. Developers and designers are integrating features that take sustainability and human impact into account. For example, hotel visionary Barry Sternlicht aimed to reinvent the industry standard for socially responsible hospitality with his new 1 Hotel & Homes project now open on Collins and 23rd Street. At the property, Sternlicht prioritized using eco-friendly materials and sustainable building ideas.

And in the more than 30 single-family homes he’s currently working on in Miami, Max Strang is connecting the residences he’s designing to the environment and the city’s design legacy, utilizing local or eco-friendly materials like Florida keystone, oolite, Pipe, and Resysta, a man-made woodlike surface made of sea salt, mineral oil, and rice husks; his homes also feature layouts that promote natural ventilation.

This coalescence of great buildings and big design thinkers in Miami also offers an opportunity to consider on a grander scale the city’s overall sustainability in the future. “Miami is literally the most exciting city in the US right now, if not all of North and South America,” says Shigematsu. “It’s the only place that’s really enabling the two Americas to share their cultures; it’s amazing to witness. And if we can begin to make more resilient architecture that responds to the changes in climate, Miami has the potential to become a model for other cities to learn from.”


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