October 20th, 2012
The Miami Herald
by Audra D.S. Burch
His challenge was how to interpret the iconic brand in an authentic, artful way; how to introduce a store in a neighborhood tilted toward both commerce and creativity.
Eight gallons of paint and 15 brushes later, witness the façade of the new Louis Vuitton store in the Design District - a watercolor veil of teals, pinks and purples by the celebrated graffiti writer.
Louis Vuitton commissioned Marquis Lewis, known as RETNA, to create an original work on the building's exterior walls, a first for the luxury brand. He delivered with a distinctly Miami palette and reinterpreted the Louis Vuitton name in his signature hieroglyphics, a style informed by ancient global cultures.
"Using their store's exterior as a canvas for street art is exceptional and truly inspiring for me as an artist," says RETNA, 33, who also designed a complementary scarf to be sold on store shelves.
Drawn to the energy and vibrancy of gang graffiti, RETNA - a name adopted from a Wu-Tang Clan track - picked up his first spray can at 9 years old. He spent his formative years perfecting the art of graffiti, painting freeway overpasses and bridges throughout his native Los Angeles.
RETNA's art form is complex, wrought with stories, and almost always including his own alphabet, born of a hybrid of global influences: Incan, Egyptian, Asian, Hebrew and Arabic and Native American visual writings, hieroglyphic and ink calligraphy.
It wasn't long before the art world took notice. Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles featured RETNA's work in its Art in the Streets exhibit. Calling RETNA's work fresh and effortless, MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch compared the artist to a great jazz musician who "improvises within a framework.''
RETNA is currently showing an exhibit of paintings, works on paper and a site-specific installation at the Michael Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles.
Here in Miami, his newest creation celebrates the arrival of Louis Vuitton in the Design District.
Louis Vuitton opened Friday in a temporary store; it will be replaced by a permanent location in the neighborhood in 2014.
"We are thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate with RETNA, an artist whose work blurs the lines between beauty and edge," said Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet, president and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton North America. "The Design District, an area pulsing with artistic, innovative and creative energy, is a natural home for Louis Vuitton and we look forward to sharing RETNA's extraordinary work with the neighborhood."
The label, founded in 1854, has almost always blurred the lines between art, fashion and design, working with artists across disciplines.
When Marc Jacobs became the brand's artistic director in 1997, he invited contemporary artists to collaborate, among them Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami and the late Stephen Sprouse, who all treated the iconic monogram as muse. But it's not just purses, bags and accessories that have received the artistic treatment: The canvas has taken the form of site-specific installations, store window designs and art exhibits.
On the eighth day of RETNA's project, in the whirl of painting, he claimed a seat on steps inside the Moore Building and chatted with The Miami Herald.
Q. So, you get the opportunity to create a mural for the façade for Louis Vuitton. What is your inspiration?
I have a lot of respect for the brand, in particular its work with art and artists. I wanted to work with colors that would represent Miami. I have seen a lot of the teal and pinks around here. I almost wanted it to be something that was inspiring and elegant. The white lettering I did in my [signature] style.
Q. This is not your first project in Miami. Tell us about the other local works.
Right around here I have a few things. I have a total of six murals in the city right now. I did my first mural as part of the Primary Flight project. I also have one at the entrance to the highway [Interstate 95 near the Design District] you can see one of my works. I am also part of the Wynwood Walls. There is also a mural on the Margulies wall.
Q. How did you end up pursuing this as a career?
I still remember as child seeing the graffiti on freeways and in the neighborhood where I grew up. It was very bright and made me feel happy. I didn't know at the time it was illegal, I just knew there was something about it that I was drawn to. The fonts were so bold and territorial, you would ride through the neighborhoods and really see the power of that style of writing. My first real stuff was done in Inglewood. Basically they were names. From there I transitioned to doing things more artistic.
Q. Your work offers a distinct element. What inspired the lettering, which borrows from the Old English fonts of newspapers, like The Los Angeles Times, and ancient letters and symbols?
I was fascinated with the ancient languages and with architecture. I would see it in books or on temples. I wasn't trying to understand it or read it or speak it, I was interested in the structure of the letters, the look of the words. It was the formation of those letters that helped the way I thought about the writing and found its way into my work.
Q. Did you take the street art to the gallery world or did the gallery world find you?
A little of both. I didn't know much about the gallery world, but I had a lot of mentors who helped me. And then I was invited to exhibit my works on canvas my work at the 01 Gallery.
Q. How do you see yourself or define your work?
I am a graffiti writer and a fine artist. I come from the lineage of street writers, but my work has evolved into that of fine art. I just want to be taken as a serious artist.
June 7th, 2012
The Miami Herald
esign District gets Preliminary Nod from Miami's Planning Board
by ndres Viglucci
Miami's planning, zoning, and appeals board on Wednesday unanimously endorsed developer Craig Robins' ambitious plan to create a mini-Lincoln Road Mall in the heart of the Design District, part of his strategy to turn the once-dormant neighborhood into an ultra-high-end retail destination.
In two 9-0 votes, the board recommended that the City Commission approve land-use changes and Robins' proposed "special area plan," which covers 51 Design District properties controlled by his development company, DACRA. Those holdings, though not contiguous, comprise more than 60 percent of the district.
Board members praised the scheme for preserving the low scale of the Design District, augmenting public spaces and enhancing the pedestrian environment while working to win support from residents of the adjacent Buena Vista East historic district.
"This is a project done right, and any developer who is thinking about developing in the city of Miami should take this as a lesson," board member Patrick Goggins said.
Robins - who has lured high-fashion brands, like Hermes and Louis Vuitton, away from the Bal Harbour Shops - wants to build an open-air pedestrian passageway lined with luxury retailers and cafes from Northeast 38th to 42nd streets.
The planning board's vote is advisory. The plan, developed in consultation with city planners to conform with the pedestrian-friendly Miami 21 code, will go to the City Commission for the first of two public hearings in July.
June 4th, 2012
The Miami Herald
Developer unveils project to transform Miami’s Design District into upscale pedestrian promenade
by Andres Viglucci and Elaine Walker
Developer Craig Robins’ plan to turn Miami’s Design District into a super-high-end retail destination entails cutting a four-block pedestrian promenade anchored by two department stores through the heart of the compact neighborhood, which would also get an extensive green makeover — including rooftops covered in sod, gardens and mature shade trees.
The ambitious scheme, which gets its first public airing before the city’s planning and zoning board on Wednesday, would create a smaller-scale version of Lincoln Road Mall, though one lined with ultra-luxury fashion shops, and dotted with cafes and tree-shaded public plazas to encourage lingering.
Not coincidentally, the layout and scale of the pedestrian passageway also bear a striking similarity to those of Bal Harbour Shops, which is losing many of its luxury tenants to the Design District. But the plan weaves that enclosed-mall template into an intensely urban setting.
“We’ve picked up on the success of those two areas that we know have really worked,” Robins said during a presentation to reporters Monday at the art-filled Design District offices of the development group he leads, DACRA. “It’s about redefining retail and creating a mixed-use urban community at the heart of the city of Miami.”
The detailed blueprint, which DACRA submitted to the city last week as a “Special Area Plan’’ under the Miami 21 zoning code, also makes room for adding a hotel and around 100 units of housing in a mid-rise tower to what has been a commercial-only district. Both would be on the west side of Northeast First Avenue at 39th Street.
Although the hotel and residential piece would require a slight up-zoning, most of the plan — which covers 51 properties that DACRA controls, or roughly 65 percent of the entire area — fits within existing zoning and would preserve the district’s low-scale character, Robins said. But existing buildings would be supplemented by signature architectural designs, Robins said.
Robins, a key early figure in the redevelopment of South Beach and founder of the Design Miami fair, said DACRA’s plan builds on the architectural bones of the district, and its focus on designer furnishings and the arts, to create “a neighborhood authentically grounded in fostering creativity and not just merchandising.’’
“The neighborhood is wonderful already,’’ Robins said. “The transformation is going to be exponential.’’
The blueprint was drafted by the Miami firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk, also authors of the Miami 21 code. It’s the second, mold-breaking collaboration between the firm, which advocates traditional, walkable urban designs, and Robins, who extols contemporary architecture and design.
The Design District plan must be approved by the city commission. Robins hopes that will happen before the August break, noting it has the support of residents’ groups in adjacent neighborhoods.
Approval would clear the way for a $312 million project that comprises extensive renovations, 540,000 square feet of new construction and some demolitions, including those necessary to clear the way for the blueprint’s centerpiece: the 30-foot-wide pedestrian mall that would run north and south from 38th to 42nd streets. Some of that work, allowed by existing rules, has already begun.
The passageway would be anchored at both ends by new public plazas and two boutique department stores like Bloomingdale’s SOHO concept.
The passageway would likely remain open 24 hours and function like a public street but without cars, Robins said.
Already Robins’ project has been hailed as a watershed in the revival of once-blighted neighborhoods in U.S. cities.
Richard Florida, author of the influential Rise of the Creative Class and a leading scholar of urban revitalization, wrote Tuesday in The Atlantic Cities urban-planning website that DACRA’s plan is “an unmistakable sign that the economic and commercial center of gravity is shifting away from the suburbs.’’
“What’s happening in the Design District signals the return of high-end retail to the downtown core, but in a new way, capitalizing on the excitement and energy of what’s been happening in the art and design corridor which runs from Wynwood to the Design District,’’ Florida, a part-time Miami Beach resident, said in an email.
DACRA is developing the project in partnership with L Real Estate, a Paris-based investment fund backed by French luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.
“Miami needed more retail infrastructure for luxury brands,” said Mathieu Le Bozec, managing partner of L Real Estate.
LVMH is bringing its namesake Louis Vuitton to the Design District, as well as another 11 of the company’s brands including Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Pucci, De Beers, Celine and Marc by Marc Jacobs. Cartier is one of 10 Richemont brands committed to opening in the district, along with a growing list of luxury tenants that includes Hermes, Zegna, Tom Ford and Burberry. Some will be opening in temporary spaces this year.
Though the district is separated from impoverished Little Haiti only by the gentrifying Buena Vista East neighborhood, its fortunes have been boosted by the success of the adjoining Midtown Miami development and the transformation of adjacent Wynwood into an arts and entertainment district. It also benefits from the ongoing revival of Biscayne Boulevard.
Robins says luxury brands “love’’ the exposure and edginess of street retail, especially when it’s as centrally located and well connected to expressways as the Design District is.
The plan also calls for four new parking garages, two of them underground below the department stores to preserve the human scale at sidewalk level. The above-ground garages, which would be developed in conjunction with the city parking authority, would be fully concealed behind retail space, Robins said. On-street parking would remain.
Robins expects to finish work on the southern portion of the pedestrian promenade, to be called the Palm Court, in 2014, with the northern portion a year after that.
November 27th, 2011
The Miami Herald
Miami Design exhibitions span Biscayne Bay
by Beth Dunlop
Some years back, developer Craig Robins fell under the spell of Buckminster Fuller — or at least of the work the brilliant futuristic architect had left behind. Robins began adding pieces to his burgeoning collection, which focuses on both art and design. But smaller pieces didn't fully satisfy. "I was interested in buying a dome," says Robins.
Lord Norman Foster, the great British architect, had already bought a 12-foot dome and had recreated, from the original plans, Fuller's futuristic Dymaxion Car. A slightly larger dome, already being restored, became available, and Robins bought it. That dome, along with the car, will be on view in the Design District, along with an array of other work that probes the ways in which architecture and design can transform our lives.
Art Basel Miami Beach — or Miami Art Week, as it's so often called — is about art, of course, but it is also about place, and the shaping and making of spaces, rooms, furniture, objects and more. "Art and design coexist," says Marianne Goebl, director of Design Miami. "They nurture each other."
Of course, this will be evident in the Design Miami pavilion, where 28 galleries will show both important pieces of furniture and objects from the last century or so, but also major experimental contemporary pieces .
Design has become a major subject for museum exhibitions around the world, and many of the works on view at Design Miami are part of that dialogue; the designers or their works are integral parts of exhibitions at museums ranging from the Pompidou in Paris to the High Museum in Atlanta, not to mention Miami's Wolfsonian-FIorida International University Museum.
But this year, that dialogue is not contained to institutions.
Start with the dome in the Design District, then look at David Adjaye's Genesis Pavilion outside the Design Miami Tent in the parking lot at the Miami Beach Convention Center. (Robins has also purchased Genesis for his ever-growing large-scale collection, and eventually both the dome and the pavilion will find permanent homes in the Design Distict).
There is much more. Christopher Janney, the architect-musician-artist who gave us the splendid Harmonic Runway at the Miami International Airport will dedicate that project's fully worthy (and also quite splendid) successor, Harmonic Convergence, on Monday; it will be celebrated with a multi-pronged program in the Design District that includes an interactive sound and light installation on the façade of the Moore Building, 4040 NE Second Ave., Miami.
Also in the Design District, at the design exhibition Inventory 2 in the Buena Vista building (180 NE 39th St., Suite 120), the architect Luis Pons will show his new prefabricated personal chapel constructed from custom-made elliptical fabric panels and designed as a private in-home retreat. The first Inventory exhibition earlier this year offered unique and creative projects that brought art and architecture to bear on design (they ranged from a dog house to floor tile and clothes hooks) from South Florida designers.
A second such exhibition is already under way at NDS Shop, 155 NE 38th St., the Miami studio of the jewelry designer Nektar De Stagni. Working in collaboration with Gallery Diet, De Stagni asked a range of artists, designers and architects (most of them local) to create work, furniture and functional objects. Among the offerings, furniture from the artist Emmett Moore and tile work from the architect Rene Gonzalez (plus there's more from Gonzalez around the corner at the Bisazza Tile showroom.) And this is just a start.
If the week is about art, it is also about the integration of art into the larger world — in public projects, in public spaces, in commercial districts, showrooms and shops. It's about taking the best of the past and the present into the future. "Miami continues to progress to being an ever-more sophisticated destination, not just for art but also for design," says Robins.
November 27th, 2011
The Miami Herald
Design Miami's Designer of the Year: architect David Adjaye
by Beth Dunlop
To be sure, the brilliant British-Ghanian architect David Adjaye was not an obvious choice as Design Miami's Designer of the Year. Unlike most of his predecessors, he has designed very few pieces of furniture or objects, except as part of a total architectural environment. And although he has designed for both artists and collectors (among them artists Lorna Simpson and James Casebere, painter Chris Ofili, director Spike Lee and collector Adam Lindeman and his gallerist/wife Amalia Dayan), his work is not in itself the object of collecting desire.
He has designed the acclaimed Denver Museum of Contemporary Art and has one of this country's most important museum commissions, the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American Culture and History (NMAACH) which will sit on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. His work shapes galleries, but it's not - for the most part -on display in them.
"What's very interesting about David is his way of collaboration," says Design Miami's new director Marianne Goebl. "For him, collaboration is a way of expression."
The Designer of the Year selection is always accompanied by a commission. To this end, Adjaye has designed a pavilion titled Genesis that stands as the entrance to the Design Miami tent just across the parking lots to the west of the Miami Beach Convention Center and the main Art Basel Miami Beach exhibitions. It is a timber-frame prismatic equilateral triangle that deals with such heady concepts as "enclosure, aperture, views, respite, meditation and community" but also offers (more mundanely but no less necessarily) places to sit and escape the sun, rain or crowds.
Born in Tanzania to a Ghanian diplomatic family, Adjaye was educated in England. He has been awarded the Order of the British Empire, and he is young (just 44) for such a distinction. His principal practice is based in London, but he also has offices in Berlin and New York. He has just published a multi-volume work, African Metropolitan Architecture, with the international art and architecture publisher Rizzoli; it is a major work, the result of 10 years of travel to 53 African countries. Among his other important commissions are the Moscow School of Management and the Nobel Peace Center.
"He was a less obvious choice," says developer and collector Craig Robins, Design Miami principal, "and yet it was a phenomenal and important selection. He has such a profound sense of design and profound sense of community." Robins has purchased Adjaye's Genesis, with the idea of re-installing it at some later point in the Miami Design District.
Adjaye is also reflective, thoughtful and most eloquent. We spoke with him about his life, work and ideas. Q. First and foremost, you are an architect, but your work encompasses so much more than that. How would you describe what you do?
I would say that I work in a creative industry - not just architecture - that is diverse, with many voices and different references coming into the canon. I'm driven by the work, but I'm also driven by my need for the work to have something more, to be something more. It is a transitional occupation.Q. Could you tell us about the pavilion you are making for Design Miami? What was the inspiration? What are the ideas behind it?
I have always been fascinated by the idea of creating a complete and immersive environment through the use of a single material. Genesis is an exploration of this and a taste of the essence and ambition of my work. Windows, doors, structure and seating fuse – like a giant piece of architectural furniture - expressed as a series of timber frames that work together and through compression, provide the overall structure.Q. You've designed homes for both artists and collectors, which is quite a collaborative process. Do you enjoy such collaborations? Can you describe the process?
I often collaborate with artists, collectors and curators - whether on the design of exhibition spaces, their homes or by including artists in the core design team. The driver is always the cultural and creative discourse that extends far beyond the buildings, themselves. I believe that this broad cultural base generates work that is socially dynamic and more absorbing.Q. What traditional architectural materials do you particularly enjoy working with (i.e. glass, bronze, wood)? What new materials?
I pay great attention to materials and my work is often distinguished by its eclectic palette. I very much enjoy working with wood – Genesis is a good example of this -and we are also exploring the use of bronze on the façade of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington - a historical reference to African American craftsmanship. Materials can be one of the most emotive tools. New materials are equally as powerful as traditional materials. It is often the juxtaposition that offers a unique perspective on composition and materiality.Q. Tell us a bit about the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.
This project is extraordinary on many levels and I feel honored to be working on it. Like much of my work, our ambition is to create a widely democratic and inviting space for Washington. I see the idea of making a museum as about making a public space, not just making a public building.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver is unique in its organizing principles and also in its use of materials.
MCA Denver was not only my first American project but also my first major museum project. It has great significance for me. I had long been invested in the art world – through collaborations and having many artists as clients - and this was an opportunity to become further involved in that dialogue. To build a facility that would contribute to the discourse and explore the typology, was extremely compelling.
I wanted to continue the trajectory of the discourse on what a museum could and should be and to establish a kind of co-authoring relationship with the art. There are a series of spaces that are crafted for different art practices and we tried to encourage a sense of intimacy with the art rather than the feeling of trawling a giant archive. There is also the relationship with the city, through the roof terrace, view corridors and public spaces.
The building is also like a mini-version of the city. You never go from one exhibition space to another: You always come out into a kind of street and then you meander into another exhibition space. The way in which you are seeing art is almost like being in a little village or little town.Q. Your work is modern, yet it draws from a variety of influences. Can you discuss some of these influences, such as traditional African architecture and craft?
I draw inspiration from many sources. I am a British-Ghanian architect and I borrow much from this heritage. I was educated in the UK – so my practice has also been informed by this training. Every project follows a unique conception and sometimes the influences can be quite literal – or alternatively the connections can be less linear. The Smithsonian project is rich in literal references – such as the Yoruba sculpture, the traditional African American bronze craftsmanship and the idea of the porch. The Moscow School of Management, however, was less directly inspired. There were various [influences] - from my research project in Africa to Russian art history.
October 7th, 2011
The Miami Herald
Hermes moving to Miami Design District
by Elaine Walker
Efforts to turn the Miami Design District into South Florida’s new luxury fashion destination are gaining ground, with Hermes the latest retailer to announce plans to relocate from the Bal Harbour Shops.
Hermes plans to more than double the size of its store when it opens a 10,000-square-foot, two-level flagship store in the Design District in Fall 2013. The retailer’s lease expires in Bal Harbour in Dec. 31, 2012. Hermes will open a temporary location in the Design District in late 2012 or by January 2013.
“Hermes’ commitment to build a flagship store in the Miami Design District will further solidify the neighborhood’s position as an international destination for fashion, art, food and design,” said Craig Robins, whose company Dacra owns about 60 percent of the Design District.“This commitment, coupled with the recent announcement by Louis Vuitton, begins to give us the critical mass of the world’s most important fashion brands.”
Already in the last several months, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Dior have closed their stores at Bal Harbour. Louis Vuitton has opened at Aventura Mall and announced plans to open in the Design District by 2014. Expected to follow Louis Vuitton’s lead are at least some — or possibly all — of the other brands owned by parent-company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy that currently have stores at the Bal Harbour Shops. Robins is also in lease negotiations with many others.
A Cartier employee answering the former Bal Harbour phone said Thursday the company will be opening a temporary store in the Miami Design District in December. Company officials would not confirm the move Thursday.
“Miami is an important market for Cartier,” said Mercedes Abramo, vice president of retail for Cartier North America, in a statement. Abramo said the company will have a “soon to be announced location.”
Hermes could not be reached Thursday for comment. The new Hermes store in the Design District will feature an expanded selection of men’s and home products. Adjacent to the Hermes store, the company will also open a St. Louis crystal shop, the first of its kind in the U.S.
Robins expects to have between 40 and 50 luxury brands open in the Design District by 2014, as he seeks to create Miami’s version of SoHo or the Meat Packing District.
The rise of the Design District is a blow to the dominance of the Bal Harbour Shops, which in 1965 created the concept of luxury retail in South Florida and has consistently ranked as one of top performing malls in the country.
May 14th, 2011
The Miami Herald
SoHo south: That’s the Design District plan
by Elaine Walker and Andres Viglucci
Dacra is buying up more property in the Design District with plans of adding luxury fashion tenants, residences and pedestrian traffic.
Over 17 years, developer Craig Robins has nearly single-handedly turned the once-derelict Design District into a trendy destination for high-end home furnishings, art and dining. The missing piece has been the pedestrian traffic needed to create an energetic, 24-hour urban area.
That's about to change, as Robins launches a repositioning of the area to bring in a new mix of luxury international fashion retailers, boutique hotels and loft apartments. It's all about creating Miami's version of a hip neighborhood akin to New York City's SoHo or Meat Packing District.
A bold move like this isn't cheap. Robins is on a buying spree: $40 million so far this year to acquire 10 more properties. His burgeoning portfolio includes 60 percent of the entire neighborhood and the vast majority of the central core between Northeast First and Second avenues.
"By having us own so much contiguous property, the neighborhood is protected from becoming over-commercialized," said Robins, whose company Dacra was also an early South Beach developer. "We want to build a beautiful neighborhood with diverse architectural structures and businesses, all designed with a strong sense of community and a unique sense of place. We believe if you combine fashion, art and design, everyone's sales will go up."
When the last deals close within the next 60 days, Robins' will own 26 properties in the Design District, representing 700,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial property and 20 acres of land. The acquisitions were made through a combination of cash and financing arrangements with the sellers, Robins said. Some of that cash came from the sale of the remainder of Dacra's Lincoln Road holdings. Robins also has partnered with private investors.
Existing Design District tenants are excited. It's why shoe designer Christian Louboutin, one of the first luxury retailers opened a store in late 2009. Restaurateur Michelle Bernstein has had so much success with Sra. Martinez, which opened two years ago, that last month she opened a new café, Crumb on Parchment. The owner of Luminaire, the contemporary home furnishings retailer that was one of the area's first tenants, recently agreed to double the size of its space.
"We're still a little bit of a cult area," said David Wichner, boutique manager for Louboutin, which has seen its sales steadily increase as customers discover the destination location. "This place could be so much more. It's like a good meal that's missing a lot of spice. It has the potential to be an actual neighborhood like Rodeo Drive, Madison Avenue or the Meat Packing District."
Robins' plans for the Design District got an instant credibility boost in March when Louis Vuitton announced plans to open a store in the area by 2014. Expected to follow Louis Vuitton's lead are at least some — or possibly all — of the other brands owned by parent-company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy that currently have stores at the Bal Harbour Shops.
Robins' goal: bring in 20 to 30 luxury retailers over the next five years. He's targeting the industry's biggest names including Cartier, Prada, Chanel, Gucci, Armani, Hermes and all the LVMH brands from Dior to De Beers.
Retail industry experts say they wouldn't bet against Robins.
"Once that dam is broken the waters will rush in," said Arthur Weiner, principal of AWE Talisman, a Coral Gables firm that handles retail leasing. "Retailers have a herd mentality. They like to be with those of like mind and like vision. Miami is way too big to be limited to one luxury retail location."
Already the news of the luxury fashion arrivals is having an impact on the market's real estate. While Robins paid an average of about $300 per square-foot, some recent prices have more than doubled, local brokers said.
"There's certainly been a jump in values since the speculation of a deal with LVMH and Craig Robins," said Tony Cho, president and chief executive of Metro 1 Properties, which specializes in real estate in the Design District and Wynwood. "There's definitely an uptick in activity, some excitement and probably some speculation. It's the LVMH factor built into the price."
It's hard to believe how far the prices have come, since Robins purchased his first buildings in the mid-1990s for $20 per square-foot. Those low acquisition costs on the early purchases, have enabled Robins to take a longer view of his plans for the Design District than many other property owners.
Bernstein remembers when she wanted to open her first restaurant, Michy's, seven years ago and couldn't reach a deal with Robins on rent in the Design District so she had to go farther north.
"He didn't know me, and he didn't want to give me a break," said Bernstein, whose new café Crumb is in a Robins-owned building. "He's had so many opportunities to just rent spaces out to get easy money. He's been very particular about what he's creating. He doesn't want to rush it."
For help drafting his master plan, Robins has turned to Duany Plater-Zyberk and Co., the renowned Miami planning firm that champions traditional urban design. The company also is responsible for the town of Seaside in the Florida Panhandle and Miami 21, the city's new, pedestrian-friendly zoning code. Robins previously worked with DPZ on the plan for Aqua, his traditional-meets-modern residential development on Miami Beach's Allison Island.
Robins has been meeting with city officials for months discussing his vision for the area. Mayor Tomas Regalado is already onboard as a supporter.
"It would connect Midtown and the Design District and then Wynwood would benefit, too," Regalado said. "Midtown is really alive, and I think the Design District could be the same. It's a great project, and I am fully committed. It's great for the city. We are really hoping this will happen."
The owners of Midtown Miami say the Design District plans will only serve to complement—not compete—with what they are doing.
"It will bring more people to the area, and that's a major plus," said Deborah Samuel, director of operations for Midtown Miami. "The Design District and Midtown have really become one neighborhood. Each area will have its own little niche."
Although Robins would have the right to build about 3 million square feet on his Design District holdings, he says he plans to stick with the current scale of the neighborhood.
The area's low scale and continuous storefronts provide a solid framework for a walkable district. Dacra's holdings also include a number of vacant lots and surface parking lots ripe for redevelopment.
With the notable exception of some signature historic buildings like the Moore and the Buick, and recent additions like the neo-traditionalist Oak Plaza buildings, which flank a narrow brick-paved alley, much of the architecture is unremarkable. Many of the smaller buildings are bare, single-story boxes designed as basic showrooms or warehouses, and could easily be replaced or enlarged by going up.
But Robins says he would bulldoze no more than 10 percent of existing buildings, focusing instead on renovation or building on undeveloped land.
The only high-rise building Robins envisions might be an office tower on Biscayne Boulevard, at least several years down the road.
"Our plans will be much more in the spirit of the Art Deco district and less in the spirits of the high-rise structures you see in downtown Miami," Robins said. "That is just not what we do."
At least some area residents in the adjacent Buena Vista East historic neighborhood remain skeptical. They had a running battle for several years with Robins over the allowable heights of new buildings backing onto 42nd Street. After reaching a compromise with the city that would limit heights to three stories bordering their one- and two-story neighborhood, residents were surprised to learn that, at Robins' behest, the city commission was considering increasing those heights to as much as 53 feet, said Wendy Stephan, former president of the neighborhood association. In the end, the heights were raised slightly, to 40 feet.
"I do support residential, as opposed to high-falutin' Christian Louboutin,'' Stephan joked. "We don't want anything towering over homes. We're looking for a little bit of sensitivity on his part. Not that anything they've done has been offensive. Everything they have done hitherto has been reasonable. But the history is not hopeful. He was very angry when things didn't go his way. He's not a good listener."
To foster greater walkability, Robins is considering some pedestrian alleys to split blocks, the way Oak Plaza connects Northeast 39th and 40th streets, said city planning director Francisco Garcia. Dacra is also asking the city to close a narrow, one-block street that connects Oak Plaza's southern end to Northeast 38th Street. The narrow street is lined with Robins properties on both sides.
So far, though, the city is balking at that request.
But Garcia said the city likes Dacra's approach — so much so that he said he has encouraged Robins to bring in other property owners to develop a broad master plan for the entire district — and is awaiting a detailed submission. Because Dacra has amassed so much property, Robins will likely apply for a special area exception under Miami 21 that would allow him to ask for rezoning and some greater design flexibility to, as Garcia said, "enhance the walkability and quality of the district, to widen sidewalks and introduce civic spaces where there aren't any."
November 8th, 2010
The Miami Herald
Getting to know the Miami Design District
by Christina Veiga
The 18-square-block Miami Design District is known as a place to shop for high-end furnishings and design-conscious products, whether they're toys or eyeglasses. Here's a sample of what you'll find.
Tomas Maier: This store has a little bit of everything.
Art and photography books are on sale in the back. The main showroom offers everyday women's wear, as well as such accessories as wallets, belts and jewelry. The front of the store features such home goods as fragrant incense. And upstairs, a gallery features a rotating display of artists' works.
The place has an industrial feel, with concrete floors and metal handrails. But classic jazz and funky indie music -- also on sale -- make it welcoming.
170 NE 40th St., 305-576-8383; www.tomasmaier.com . Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
I on the District: This optical and sunglasses store promises funky frames to finish your look.
``It's like frames to see, as well as to been seen,'' said owner Irina Chovkovy. It's a statement. They see it on your face.''
The store also sells purses and other accessories in a boutique in the back. Organic kids' clothes are also a big draw, Chovkovy said.
The store carries restored vintage glasses, in addition to high-end brands such as Dita and Chrome Hearts.
120 NE 40th St., 305-573-9400; www.ionthedistrict.com . Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.
Y-3 STORE MIAMI: For those who want to get fit in style, Y-3 offers designer athletic wear by Japanese designer Wohji Yamamoto.
The line offers bright orange and purple shoes -- some made out of the same material as scuba diving gear. Workout clothes feature rich fabrics such as lambskin.
And upstairs, last season's collection is on sale for 50 percent off.
150 NE 40th St., 305-573-1603; Y-3store.adidas.com . Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Marni: Stainless steel floating racks dip and curve around this brightly lit space. Mannequin busts hang from single metal cables, featuring delicate patterned tops and classic, solid-print dresses.
Known for their shoes, Marni's high-heeled works of art are displayed throughout the store on shiny, round platforms.
Store manager Jorge Salazar describes the line as ``special collector's pieces that transcend any time.''
3930 N.E. 2nd Ave., 305-764-3357; www.marni.com . Open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday .
JBL International Antiques: A sign outside the door of this antique shop claims, ``Style is not an expression of wealth, but an expression of imagination.''
Inside, though, ornate furniture from throughout the centuries bear hefty price tags. There are plush rugs on the floor and classical music playing. Shiny chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The 5,500-square-foot showroom is crammed with artifacts from the middle 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century.
Owner Burt Lange, who has run JBL for 15 years, said you have to be willing to pay the price for quality home furnishings.
100 NE 40th St., 305-576-1500. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Fendi Casa: The smell of leather throughout Fendi Casa's showroom is a testament to the luxurious materials -- fox, mink, sheep skin and zibeline -- used for the Italian brand name's line of home furnishings.
The signature double ``F'' can be found on the corners of plush rugs or written in crystal on fluffy pillows. Most of the line features the classic combination of black and white, with a few pieces offering a splash of red, purple or pink.
90 NE 39th St., 305-438-1660; www.fendicasa.it. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
PLUMBING & TILE
Decorator's Plumbing: This family-run business has been selling high-end bath and kitchen accessories since the 1980s.
Commodes line the walkways and sink basins hang at an angle from the walls. The space is packed with door handles, sink faucets and shower heads from brands such as Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio and Zah Hadid.
The selection of decorator plumbing supplies lures in overseas buyers and local mansion owners from Miami Beach.
109 NE 39th St., 305-576-0022; www.decoratorsplumbing.com . Open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Bisazza: Bisazza features bright glass mosaic pieces and furniture from Italy.
The company has been in the United States for 15 years, with stores in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Miami location is the newest.
``It's great to be in the Design District,'' said Lucia Schito, who has been with the company almost from the beginning. ``The traffic isn't constant, but the people here know what they're looking for.''
The showroom features 3,500 square feet with an ``inviting'' but ``fancy'' feel, Schito said. Most clients are architects and designers because many of the products aren't finished and require installation, she said.
3740 NE 2nd Ave., 305-438-4388; www.bisazzausa.com . Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and Saturday by appointment only.
Genius Jones: This independent toy store started on Miami Beach with the idea that new parents shouldn't have to give up their love for design.
The Design District incarnation features an L-shape store, with organic crayons and Grateful Dead onesies out front, and a long hallway with furniture, highchairs and cribs. Owners promise the funky, futuristic pieces offer fashion and function.
49 N.E. 39th St., 305-571-2000; www.geniusjones.com . Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-6 p.m. Saturday.
Emilio Robba, Inc. : Emilio Robba's striking bouquets have earned him the title ``sculptor of flowers.''
His beautiful bouquets feature both cut and synthetic flowers that look so real the line is called ``illusion.'' The French artist also sells sculptures and vases, as well as photography of nature scenes.
4242 NE 2nd Ave., 305-572-1261; www.emiliorobba.com.
November 28th, 2009
The Miami Herald
Audi A8 set for star-studded debut
by Lesley Abravanel
For Twilight fans, the debut of the Audi A8 is going to be a huge scream. Kellan Lutz, who plays a member of the Cullen family in the viral vampire saga, is expected at the Monday night VIP unveiling of Audi A8: The Art of Progress, an art-meets-auto exhibition curated by British design star Tom Dixon and the Rubell Family Collection housed in the Audi Pavilion on 46th and Collins. The public can check it all out on Wednesday, and after the Pavilion is removed, a playground donated by Audi will be built on the site. Hosted by Lucy Liu, Monday's private event culminates with a six-course dinner by star chef David Bouley. Also on the guest list: Ben McKenzie (Southland, The O.C.), Chris Noth (Sex and the City), and Christina Ricci. As for Lutz, he's a huge Audi fan, which means that zillions of screaming, hormonally challenged teens will also now be huge Audi fans. Genius.
Justin Long and Drew Barrymore have been seen pretty much everywhere, from the Viceroy's Club 50 to Tobacco Road, where they were seen Monday night. But it's not all about food and drink. On Monday, Barrymore was at Avant Gallery in the Design District to preview its Art Basel/Design Miami exhibit, Pictures & Furniture. She is said to have fallen in love with Purvis Young's painting Free Cuba and Alejandro Vigilante's Email is My Art series. According to our snitch, Barrymore may have reserved one of the pieces for possible purchase next week.
Also seemingly eating their way through Miami are Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minnillo, who were seen last weekend having dinner with friends at China Grill. On Monday, they hit Prime 112, and on Tuesday they were at Asia de Cuba. Sounds like a certain couple is really hungry -- for food and PR.
Lunching at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Wednesday: actor Gale Harold of Queer as Folk and Desperate Housewives fame.
Amber Heard, who plays Johnny Depp's love interest in upcoming Rum Diaries, was spotted at the Sagamore Hotel.
Rapper Kid Sister will be at the Delano at 9 p.m. Friday to perform and promote her new album, Ultraviolet. The event is the premiere of Giant Step's Svedka Vodka Sessions, which will feature DJ Induce and, in the spirit of Art Basel, the works of Austrian-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Alois Kronschlaeger.
Lance Armstrong is expected to be at O.H.W.O.W., 888 Biscayne Blvd., for Thursday night's opening reception for STAGES, an exhibition featuring the works of more than 20 artists to benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
July 23rd, 2009
The Miami Herald
Miami Design District investor finds a bargain
by Joel Poelhuis
A developer who helped pioneer redevelopment in the Design District has made a bargain buy -- $96 a square foot.
While pundits search for signs of a real-estate market bottom, developer Todd Glaser found a bottom-dollar price for a 3,368-square-foot building on the edge of Miami's Design District.
Glaser, who helped lead redevelopment of the area in the early 1990s, said the $325,000 purchase at 4111 N. Miami Ave. was a no-brainer.
Others in the industry think so as well.
``In the Design District, $100 a foot sounds like a steal,'' said Duff Rubin, Coldwell Banker's director of commercial real estate in South Florida.
In the heart of the Design District, recent sales prices often run three to four times that, said Craig Robins, a design district pioneer and president, chief executive and chairman of Dacra, a real estate development company.
Glaser plans to renovate the North Miami Avenue property and lease it as a restaurant or retail space. Currently the building is marred by graffiti and its doors and windows are boarded up with plywood.
It was a cash sale because the building's poor condition made obtaining financing difficult, said Mauricio Zapata, a Chariff Realty Group associate who helped broker the sale.
Dacra bought the property in 1994 for $115,000, when Glaser was still working with the firm, and sold it to nonprofit One Art in 1999 for $250,000.
The Miami-Dade property appraiser listed the building's value at more than $1 million last year. Alex Prado, the director of One Art, said his organization had opportunities to sell the property before -- once for more than $700,000 during the real estate boom -- but that profit was never a motive in decision-making.
Recent development in the Design District has been dominated by Dacra, which bought a two-story building at 4141 NE Second Ave for around $16 million last fall.
Robins said he isn't surprised to hear of Glaser's renewed interest in the area.
Next door, construction is under way on a three-story building that will house the art collection of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz. The de la Cruzes hope to open the museum-like structure to the public during Art Basel Miami Beach in December.
Robins said Glaser's new property will be ``anchored by one of the best art collections in the United States.''
Coldwell Banker's Rubin said the Design District has become increasingly appealing to restaurateurs because of lower rents compared to high-end areas like South Beach and because the customer base is local rather than seasonal.
``I have friends in the restaurant business and they all want to be there,'' he said.
Lyle Chariff, owner of Chariff Realty Group, said retail space in the Design District rents for about $45 per square foot, compared to $150 in South Beach.
Those are the economics that first drew Glaser to the Design District in the early 1990s. ``Prices were getting high; people were moving off the Beach,'' he said. ``The same cycle is starting again.''
But Rubin cautioned that bargain-basement real estate prices are putting downward pressure on rent prices. While he said the Design District may be less affected by the recession than other areas, it's not exempt.
``The market is soft,'' he said. ``There's never been a better time to be a tenant.''
Robins said Dacra has been able to lease most of the Design District space that it owns, though he said the recession has dampened growth in the area. Dacra, he said, keeps a tight rein on its lease prices to maintain the area's high-end image.
``We generally keep a higher-than-normal vacancy factor because we like to emphasize quality,'' he said.
One Art, the nonprofit group that sold the building to Glaser, had planned to turn it into an art and music studio for children. Prado said the group was only about $30,000 short of making the needed renovations when property taxes began to take their toll.
Because the building lacked a certificate of occupancy, the group didn't receive a tax exemption for its nonprofit status. In the end, One Art took out a mortgage on the property just to pay back taxes. ``We had to get that monkey off our back,'' Prado said. ``I never wanted to let go of that dream. For me to have sold it was like cutting off a part of me.''
Prado said One Art is now looking for a new location, perhaps in the Overtown area.
December 3rd, 2007
The Miami Herald
Design District shines during Art Basel
by Douglas Hanks
Craig Robins didn't create Miami's Design District. But the 44-year-old developer and art collector has emerged as its primary landlord, designer and spokesman.
Each year, the Art Basel Miami Beach frenzy shines a spotlight on the neighborhood, thanks largely to Robins and his Design Miami show. A newly official companion to Art Basel Miami Beach, the three-day festival, which will run from Friday to Sunday, features 26 installations centered on contemporary design.
"There aren't too many places where you can walk in such a short distance and see so much interesting creative expression," Robins said.
Robins helped establish the event that became Design Miami in 2005 to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. Six months later, organizers brought the show to Basel, Switzerland, where the Miami Beach event's namesake, Art Basel, is held annually.
This marks Design Miami's first year in the official Art Basel corporate family. Basel's Swiss parent company, MCH Swiss Exhibition, recently bought a 10 percent stake in the Robins firm that owns the show and a 50 percent stake in its Swiss counterpart, Design Miami Basel.
This also will be the first time Robins doesn't throw a big public Basel bash in the Design District, where corner bars and night-time gallery shows used to draw throngs to the neighborhood. Robins said too many nondesign fans showed up for the fun. (Design Miami still will extend its 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule to 11 p.m. Saturday, but the free-flowing drinks won't be there.)
Even so, the hoopla has certainly helped propel the Design District into one of Miami's most fashionable commercial spots - a trend that has boosted rents and land values for Robins' development firm, Dacra.
Business Monday joined Robins for a walking tour of the Design District recently, as construction crews hammered away at gallery space and installations for Design Miami's opening.
A highlight of the show - an undulating metal fence by Marc Newson that Robins commissioned for Design and Architecture Senior High School in the district - was nothing more than a ditch at the time. But Robins pointed out four places that weren't around the last time Art Basel rolled into town.
Among the highlights:
Y-3 MIAMI STORE
Location: 150 NE 40th St.
Opened in November, this marks the first store in the United States dedicated to the Japanese fashion designer's line of Adidas shoes and clothes.
It also stands as a milestone for the Design District: its first true retail outlet, as opposed to the furniture and design galleries that populate most of the storefronts and cater to the design trade.
"I wear their shoes and their pants, shirts,'" said Robins, the store's landlord. "It's one of my favorite stores."
That Adidas and Yamamoto picked the Design District "rather than going to some shopping mall" shows how the neighborhood "stands for something that is special," he said.
Location: 163 NE 39th St.
The brightly tiled building features a mosaic mural on a rear wall where the Brosia restaurant is opening.
But look up to find the true architectural oddity: a dip in the roofline hugging a large oak limb.
"This building was designed to go around the trees," Robins said. "Unfortunately, there's no [zoning] requirement to save trees. It was important to us."
MICHAEL'S GENUINE FOOD AND DRINK
Location: 130 NE 40th St.
"Michael really made this into a neighborhood," Robins said during a chance encounter with the new restaurant's chef and owner, Michael Schwartz. "I eat here all the time."
The restaurant features a small dining room facing an open kitchen, with tables outside. Indulgent regulars like the fried hominy appetizer, but Robins says he sticks with the chicken.
"It's got really good wholesome food," Robins said. "It's not pretentious. In a way, what the Design District is all about."
Location: 180 NE 39th St.
You can spot this new outpost for the famous Nashville guitar maker by the giant six-string sitting at the foot of the stairs of Robins' Buena Vista building. Designed by artist David LeBatard and awash in electric colors, it points the way to a private party space and mini studio for Gibson.
But even though the Gibson Musical Instruments Miami Showroom will be closed to the public most of the time, its glass walls offer plenty of gawking opportunities.
Also look up (a good tip in general for the Design District) at a delicate wooden sculpture suspended over the staircase - a scale model used for a bridge in Asia.
"This is such a beautiful object of design," Robins said. "The Museum of Modern Art keeps asking if I will donate it."
What is he going to do?
"Keep an open mind," Robins said.
July 25th, 2005
The Miami Herald
In the District
by Jo Werne
It's a beautiful morning in the year 2010. A young artist leaves his loft apartment in the Miami Design District and strolls to Northeast 40th Street to enjoy a cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe.
Later, he visits several art galleries to see if his paintings, placed on consignment, have sold. Pausing to chat with friends in a plaza shaded by oak trees, the artist checks out the daily specials in the windows of several cafes before returning to his loft in a live/work high-rise to start another painting.
This is a scenario envisioned by architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk five years from now when the Design District is transformed from an under-utilized area of designer showrooms and art galleries to a bustling neighborhood of condos, rentals and new mixed-use buildings. Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Miami, Plater-Zyberk sees more restaurants, as well as convenience stores and pleasant streetscapes that will make the neighborhood a desirable place to live.
"I see the district full of merchants and shoppers," says Plater-Zyberk who created a master plan for the area. "DASH [Design and Architecture Senior High] will be thriving. I see more green, a better entry and several buildings with walkthroughs."
"What we are doing is embarking on a really intense program to bring architecture into the neighborhood," says Craig Robins, head of Dacra Properties who is planning to build several live/work structures as well as a building to house his extensive art collection, which will be open to the public. "We are taking a vibrant neighborhood and making it more so. We're going to create live/work spaces for creative people and subsidize where young people need help."
Dozens of artists, architects and designers, he says, are already involved in the district.
The area "has that excitement of a new and developing neighborhood," says architect John Keenen of Keenen/Riley Architects, New York. "Every time I go to Miami, I can feel the changes in the district. It's palpable. It reminds me of changes in Manhattan, the evolution of SoHo and other neighborhoods."
Keenen and his business partner Terence Riley, curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, are involved in several projects in the Design District, including four two-story retail buildings that will be on Tuttle Street. The newly named street curves from Bis-cayne Boulevard and will become a major entrance to the district.
The architects also have designed two courtyard homes on Northeast 43rd Street, one of which Riley plans to live in when he's in Miami.
Craig Konyk of Brooklyn-based Konyk Architecture is one of several architects commissioned by Dacra to design the new buildings on Tuttle Street. "Our building [Tuttle Street 2 on the map on page 29] is an open plan that could support other uses besides showrooms," he says. "We will make a roof-top activity space. This is exciting for us. New buildings show the district is growing."
New York architect Walter Chatham has been involved in the Design District for 10 years; he did the renovation of the Moore Building and other buildings on commission from Dacra. "Residential has been a missing ingredient in the district," he says. "The area had to be viable before residential could happen. It should accelerate rapidly."
Plater-Zyberk, whose firm DPZ Architects designed the town of Seaside in the Florida Panhandle, believes the Design District is ripe for residential development because "it has good bones and an urban structure."
Design District merchants would like to see people living in the neighborhood because "when they look at residential, they see bucks," says Susane Ronai, owner of Susane R Lifestyle Boutique.
"Because people are going to be living here, the district must be more friendly, more urban, more welcoming," she says. "And it must become more convenient. I had to send a client needing batteries for her camera over to [Biscayne] Boulevard and several blocks down to find batteries. Two years from now, no one will have to go outside the district for a battery. We need more boutiques, cafes, restaurants, a newsstand. We need a little movie house, and I would love to see a bookstore here."
"The district is perfect for residential," adds Rajni Agar-wal, owner of Advanced Trading, an Oriental rug showroom at the same Northeast 40th Street location for 25 years. "It's so convenient to downtown, the expressway, the airport."
Wayne Taylor, owner of NOW, a retail showroom of contemporary furniture, also welcomes residential development. "It makes it an urban area," he says. "We're in transition, on the way. Enough people are interested in putting their feet in the water to make it work."
Many of the conveniences the Design District will need as it morphs into a residential area will be available just blocks away at Midtown Miami, which is under construction at the old Buena Vista Railroad Yard south of Northeast 36th Street. Besides eight residential towers, the development will have "big box" stores, supermarkets and specialty stores.
"Midtown Miami is very positive for us," says Robins. "The district can be more artistic, designer-oriented. I think the two areas will be compatible."
Design District merchants also view Midtown Miami's residential towers as a potential source for their products. Everything from bathroom fixtures to tile, floor coverings, furniture, antiques and art are already available in district showrooms. Most now welcome retail customers as well as offer discounts to designers and architects.
"What we should have here is many more designers so this could become a one-stop shopping area for all sorts of home furnishings," Ronai says.
Although the Design District has a "good street grid," Plater-Zyberk says the blocks are too long to make it pedestrian-friendly.
Dacra is already addressing this issue by cutting a lane through from Northeast 40th Street to Northeast 39th and building two narrow buildings that will be shaded by oak trees. Called Oak Plaza, it will include a restaurant and patio that will invite pedestrians to pause and relax in the shade.
"It will be the first public space for the district," says architect Carrie Penabad, whose firm Cure & Penabad Architects is responsible for the plaza, the new street and two new buildings along with Khoury & Vogt Architects, both Miami firms. "I think it's great to have residences in the district. You need housing to make it lively both by day and night."
Anyone who has walked the long blocks of the Design District during hot weather knows the area also needs shade. Beginning this summer, the City of Miami plans to plant 80 trees along Northeast 40th Street and improve lighting and sidewalks. Concerned about the entire street being torn up at once, merchants met with the city, which has agreed to do the work in four increments. The city is also building a parking garage south of Northeast 39th Street.
Finally, Plater-Zyberk points out, the "new" Design District must be convenient and easy to get around: "There is a need for kiosks to direct people around the district. We need to make it friendly."
July 25th, 2005
The Miami Herald
by Matthew Haggman
Craig Robins expands his vision for Miami's Design District as new construction changes the face of the neighborhood.
Developer Craig Robins, who pioneered the redevelopment of South Beach from seedy beach community into international 'playground, is forsaking trendy Lincoln Road and moving the headquarters of his company, Dacra, to Miami's Design District.
The move will put him in the middle of ambitious new construction projects that are expected to transform the artsy neighborhood and could one day give it the cachet of South Beach.
Over the past decade he has been buying up and renovating properties in the Design District. Now he is ready to embark on the district's first significant new construction in years. He envisions erecting more than 15 new buildings, including condos, apartment rentals, art galleries, design showrooms, office space, restaurants and cafes.
"Years of hard work have laid the foundation," said Robins, 42. "So much has happened already and the neighborhood appears to be on the verge of a very profound and important transformation."
Over the next three years, Robins plans to add nearly 1.5 million square feet of new construction to his roughly 500,000 square feet of current holdings in the Design District.
The aim: enliven the district's streets with more residents and visitors who in turn will promote commercial activity and inspire new restaurants and cafes, while hewing to the Design District's identity as a center for art, architecture and design.
"The goal is to make this neighborhood Miami's unique creative laboratory," Robins said. Robins is moving Dacra's headquarters at the end of the year from South Beach to the fourth floor of the refurbished Buick Building on Northeast 2nd Avenue.
"I still live in Miami Beach and have property there, but [South Beach] is becoming more of a commercial kind of place," said Robins. "A company like ours likes, to be on the edge and in new and vital places. Mainly, it will be a lot of fun to be in the Design District."
But Robins faces many challenges in a neighborhood that spiraled downward in the 1980s as crime surged and a competitor, the Design Center of the Americas, opened in Dania Beach.
The Design District has no natural features like a beach or a waterfront to lure residents. And some past condo projects planned by other developers that were unveiled with much fanfare have yet to get off the ground in the district. Work has not started on either the Aria or Cube condo projects. And street life in the area remains lackluster, with limited options for dining or entertainment.
"Is something happening there? Yes," said real estate analyst Michael Cannon. "The neighborhood looks a lot better than it did. But does it have a long way to go? Yes. The neighborhood has not reached critical mass."
But Robins has a considerable track record. He founded Dacra in 1987 and became a leader in South Beach's revival, playing a part in the renovation of landmarks such as the Netherland and Marlin hotels and redevelopment of Lincoln Road and Espanola Way.
Since he started buying property in the Design District in 1994, he has refurbished structures such as the Moore Furniture Co. building and attracted more than 50 designers and professionals ranging from architects Alison Spear and Chad Oppenheim to singer Juanes to the neighborhood.
"I think Craig is one of the most talented developers in Miami," said Jorge Perez, chairman and chief executive of The Related Group of Florida, which is among the nation's biggest condo developers.
Attorney Neisen Kasdin, who was mayor of Miami Beach during much of South Beach's resurgence, said the Design District shares similar characteristics: a defined neighborhood; quality architecture and streetscape; and a unique, identifiable character.
And he thinks the massive Midtown Miami development - located just south of the Design District - and its plans for eight condo towers and several big-box retailers - will complement the district's revival and draw new people into the neighborhood. The re-emerging Buena Vista single-family home neighborhood to the north and new condo construction along Biscayne Boulevard should also help, Kasdin said.
"The prospects are good," said Kasdin, a partner at Guns-ter Yoakley in Miami. "The only question is the time frame."
PHASE ONE UNDERWAY
Robins, who is currently completing a residential development called Aqua in Miami Beach, plans to roll out the new construction in the Design District in two phases.
Phase one is already underway. It includes:
# Oak Plaza, a project on Northeast 40th Street, that will include two two-story buildings for retail and design showrooms. A new street called Plumer Alley will knife between the two structures connecting to Northeast 39th Street, leading to a restaurant space and courtyard. Completion is expected by year's end.
# Two modern single-family homes on Northeast 42nd Street that are set to receive the final nod for occupancy within the next two weeks.
# Two buildings along Northeast First Court between Northeast 38th and Northeast 39th streets that are slated to go up in 2006. Each will have a ground floor retail component and the upper floors in the Palm Court Building will include rental apartments while the Collection Building will have art gallery space and hold Robins' private art collection.
# Two parcels on either side of Tuttle Street between Biscayne Boulevard and North Federal Highway that Robins hopes will serve as the Design District's gateway. On one side of the street, two two-story retail and design showrooms are planned. On the other, two more two-story retail structures topped by several floors of condominiums are on the drawing board.
Robins said a condo developer will be chosen shortly who will build the condo component. Construction is set to begin next year.
PHASE TWO PLANS
Robins plans to launch a second phase within the next three years that will include office space, more condos, art galleries, retail and design space and possibly a hotel. Those developments would go on several parcels of land Robins already owns at the intersection of North Miami Avenue and Northeast 39th Street, among other locations.
Added to this mix, developer Jeremy Green of Nexus Development Group has purchased two Design District parcels where he plans to build town homes and lofts. And last year Robins sold the famed Living Room building, noted for its oversized pink outdoor couch, to Diego and Ernesto Rimoch of Mexico City for $3 million. They plan to turn it into an independent film theater.
Expecting an influx of people in the district, Robins' Dacra is also slated to build a city-owned parking garage in the neighborhood.
"I think the Design District holds similar potential as Lincoln Road [did]," said Green. "What better evidence than one of the biggest catalysts of Lincoln Road, Craig Robins, is the biggest landowner in the Design District."
April 4th, 2004
The Miami Herald
GLIMMER NOT GRANDSTANDING
by Beth Dunlop
Design District projects offer worthy ideas about architecture, art, craft and the use of materials
The Design District is a place in the making still, with brilliant moments and lots of fits and starts. Seal off the streets for a party, as happens during Art Basel and other times, and it is easy to see how glorious it could be. Wander around after work on any given weeknight, and it is equally easy to see that there's still a ways to go.
Thus come four lovely, small, simple renovations -- and a wonderful proposal for two more buildings and a fanciful tree-shaded plaza -- that offer new ideas about architecture, art, craft and the use of materials. More, these projects are essentially about place-making, about creating a district, a neighborhood that fosters creativity, encourages interaction and is generally delightful to behold.
The signs of spring in Miami's Design District are subtle ones, like the first buds on trees in northern climes. But subtle is good. South Florida has plenty of flamboyant architectural gestures, and far too few buildings that try to fit in.
The first glimmer of this -- and I do mean glimmer -- came from architect Alison Spear's new office. Spear, whose practice is both in Miami and New York, bought a tiny, nondescript building -- a former tie factory -- on a little-traveled side street (Northeast Miami Court) and painted it a shimmery silver, adding windows and a skylight to let the sun come in. Inside, it is an atelier. Out front, the small parking lot can become a plaza for a party or local events. But it is the paint that sets this building apart, letting it glisten a bit and even better, reflect the light and heat for a more comfortable work life inside.
Then came three renovations from DACRA, developer Craig Robins' firm. DACRA got its start in the Art Deco District and has gained quite a name for its high-profile project on Miami Beach's Allison Island called Aqua, not to mention the Design District.
Some years back, Robins began buying up buildings in the beleaguered mid-Miami Design District (a neighborhood of 18 blocks roughly bounded by Northeast 36th Street, the FEC tracks, Miami Avenue and Northeast 41st Street) that many had given up for almost-lost, and renovating them, luring in interior design and furniture showrooms and art galleries, and commissioning works of public art, including the brilliant Living Room from Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt at the corner of North Miami Avenue and 40th Street.
He now owns 35 buildings in the area, with a total of 1 million square feet of space, which is certainly what one might call a critical mass for any neighborhood. Robins also underwrote a design charrette headed by University of Miami Architecture Dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and her firm Duany & Plater-Zyberk, to set parameters for future development.
Early on, DACRA hired New York architect Walter Chatham and Miami architect Derrick Smith to renovate five buildings, including the illustrious Moore Building, the district's architectural centerpiece.
But that was just the beginning.
Chatham recently completed another renovation, this of the Newton Building at the corner of Northeast 39th Street and Second Avenue. Chatham added a metal mesh tower at the corner that anchored the building to the street and connected it to the sky -- another simple but entirely creative intervention. Chatham selected the perforated aluminum so it would ''torque around the cylinder and go up,'' but also because it could give the building two different appearances: ``a solidity by day and a transparency by night.''
Two other buildings, both on Northeast 39th Street, also set the stage for change. The first of these, the Twery Building, was renovated by Chatham and is a handsome two-story building, painted yellow. The second, intended for use as a restaurant, was transformed by Terence Riley, curator of architecture at New York's Museum of Modern Art and a principal in Keenen/Riley. It features wood-trimmed windows and industrial grate canopies over the front and side doors. Riley describes it as a ''rather modest structure that is symbolically quite important as it establishes an active center for the Design District.'' It also, he points out, looks out on a public space.
As part of the overall plan for the Design District, Robins decided to create a mid-block street that will bisect a too-long city block between Northeast 39th and 40th streets. The project, known as Oak Plaza, will include the renovation of one building, the construction of a second and the creation of the District's first actual plaza under a stand of gorgeous 150-year-old white oaks. Two firms are carrying this out in a unique joint venture; it is unique because they started separately and decided to unite for the good of the project and the good of the city.
The two firms, Cure+Penabad Studio and Khoury & Vogt Architects, are actually Miami stories of themselves, extraordinarily talented young architects educated here who left to go to Harvard and Yale and then returned.
The two buildings fronting on 40th Street will have terraces and arcades that line the street. And though the architecture makes strong reference to the local vernacular building traditions, there is an element of enchantment here -- a kind of architectural magic realism that surfaced first in Behar and Marquardt's Living Room project down the street.
It is a feeling that carries into the plaza with its great white oaks. Oak Plaza itself will be paved in native limestone, like carpet in a room. Two edges of the plaza will open to the street, while the others will be walls that frame the space. One edge will be lined with small shops, the other will be a covered, tile-clad loggia.
It's almost all looking good. Just at the District's edge Northeast 41st Street is the site of a new ''loft'' condominium called Aria, which, despite the fact that its architect is the promising Miamian Chad Oppenheim, is way too tall. At 18 stories, it's at least twice the height that should have been allowed, especially since it is at the juncture of the Design District and the historic residential neighborhood of Buena Vista East.
Full-time residents are a must if the Design District is to prosper, but high rises are problematic both visually and sociologically. And if this is a precedent, the district could get walled in -- and the the adjacent residents blocked out -- which would be the worst possible urbanism.
Robins has commissioned three new buildings on the renamed Tuttle Street that runs along the eastern edge of the Design District -- one each by Chatham and Keenen/Riley and third by the New York architect Craig Konyk. A fourth building, also by Keenen/Riley, will be among the tallest within the district and will include live-work residential space. People, round-the-clock, are the mandate right now if the five o'clock shadow is not to fall on the neighborhood.
For his part, Robins says he wants the district to be a ''laboratory for creativity'' and it is heading that way -- with galleries, public art and fine architecture. It's telling that the designs so far are buoyed by a kind of joyousness about the possibilities of this particular place, and it is this kind of optimism, this kind of faith in our ability to create buildings and spaces that are beautiful and useful and pleasurable, that builds great cities, piece by piece and block by block.
March 7th, 2004
The Miami Herald
S. Florida designers get prizes for work
by Jo Werne
The Second Annual Midnight Affair Design Excellence Award held last weekend in the Miami Design District brought awards to nine Florida designers and architects.
In addition, two designers were honored for their legislative support and the Bud Merle Award went to a designer who devotes a great deal of time to community efforts.
Sponsored by DACRA and Florida professional design organizations, the award ceremony was hosted by Mayer Rus, design editor of House and Garden, and Linda O'Keefe, design and architecture editor of Metropolitan Home. It was held in the Moore Building.
Dakota Jackson, one of the judges, signed the Tricentennial art-case piano that commemorates the 300th anniversary of the invention of the piano. It can be seen at Steinway & Sons' Coral Gables showroom, 4104 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
The categories and the winners are:
* Private Residence Under 5,000 Square Feet: Upstairs Studio, Miami.
* Outdoor Space: Chad Oppenheim, Oppenheim Architecture + Design, Miami
* Surprise Space: Alexander Karram, Interiors Karram, Boca Raton.
* Retail/Showroom: Echeverria Design Group, Coral Gables.
* Interior Design Association (IDAF) for Outstanding Legislative Support in the Interior Design Industry: Janice Young, Jacksonville, and Michael Shiff, Fort Lauderdale.
* Condominium/Apartment: Architect Rene Gonzalez, Miami, and Levin, Calderin & Associates, Miami.
* Health Care/Institutional: Architect Rene Gonzalez, Miami.
* Workplace/Office: Rink Reynolds Diamond Fisher Wilson, Jacksonville.
* Historic Preservation: Alleguez Architecture, Miami
* Buddy Award: Bud Merle Foundation, Joyce Short Interior Design, Fort Lauderdale.
Besides Jackson, judges included Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Orlando Diaz-Ascuy, DD Allen and Michael Pierce, Leila and Massimo Vignelli, Hugh L. Latta, Larry Laslo, Fred Bernstein, Charles D. Gandy and Juan Montoya
August 13th, 2003
The Miami Herald
$40M Plan announced for District
by CHRISTINA HOAG
It's been a long time coming, but developer Craig Robins believes the time is right to launch his $40 million renaissance plan for Miami's Design District, a plan that aims to turn the area into an architectural showcase.
"Every neighborhood has its process of evolution," said Robins, president of the Miami Beach-based Dacra Properties, which owns one-million square feet of downtown land, including 35 buildings.
"What is so critical about the Design District is that we've revitalized it by restoring existing buildings," he said, "and now the neighborhood is ready for new construction."
The plan involves 15 buildings, totaling 500,000 square feet of space. The style is what Robins has dubbed "the Miami School," a contemporary look with Mediterranean revival influences.
The first phase ? seven buildings slated for completion by the end of next year include two prototypes of architecturally funky houses, a new street, an oak-lined square, a retail/office/studio building and a restaurant location. Construction has begun.
The cornerstone will be Oak Plaza, a square to be built around existing oaks. Robins is constructing a street to access the plaza. The aim: to make the city blocks shorter and, in so doing, create a "pedestrian-friendly environment."
The new street is to traverse the blocks between Northeast 39th and 40th streets at Northeast First and Second avenues. The restaurant and small multiuse building will front the plaza.
The houses, too, promise to be eye catching. The two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom dwellings will boast three courtyards, with living areas off the front courtyard, bedrooms off the middle one, which will include a small swimming pool, and kitchens off the back one. Glass walls between the courtyards will allow a full view of the house from the entrance.
Robins said he sought innovative architecture in order to underscore the area as a "laboratory for creativity."
"We thought it was important to make an international statement about housing," he said, adding that the houses are to be "affordably" priced.
The long-planned revival of the Design District, angled on an arts theme, is key to the city's plan to breathe new life into downtown Miami. It has been slow to catch on, but in recent months restaurants, art galleries and businesses, including a film-production company and a hip-hop jeweler, have leased office space.
A big boost came when the Latin Grammys relocated their headquarters in the area.
"It's taken a very long time, especially with the economy," Robins said, "but the neighborhood is gaining momentum."
Housing, though, may be the hardest part of the revitalization to get going.
"The idea of bringing housing back downtown is great; there's a lot of pent-up demand," real estate analyst Andy Dolkart said. "Question is: After the first few projects strip that demand, how deep is the market? Downtown is not growing as a job market. Why are people going to stampede downtown when they're not getting closer to work?"
Robins is banking on the idea that creative types will be attracted to "the District." The area's live-in/work-in studios, he noted, are proving popular.
June 16th, 2002
The Miami Herald
Discovering a 'Place' in Miami's hot art scene
by ELISA TURNER
That Place, an exhibition culled mainly from contemporary art in private South Florida collections and on view at two venues in Miami's Design District, could just as well be called Any Place. It gamely tackles the variously depressing and thrilling manifestations of globalization, all without mentioning the pesky ''g'' word.
But the sense that we live in a crowded, fluid world of morphing identities and virtual travel comes through loud and clear, as 50-plus contemporary artists ricochet among genres, freely sampling from the conventions of painting, design, film, photography and performance art.
Artist C?sar Trasobares, in collaboration with Key Biscayne collector Rosa de la Cruz curated the exhibit, which presents work by some of this generation's most talked-about international artists in the Moore Building and the Buick Building on Northeast Second Avenue in the Design District.
The clever, provocative exhibit -- which debuted last month and will remain on view Saturdays through July 29 -- is almost too much to absorb. And it occasionally makes visitors tussle with tangents that could be put into a more accessible context in the kind of settings museums are supposed to provide.
Among the works are Miami-based artist Mette Tommerup's best pieces to date -- digital prints of bodies elasticized into swervy, sci-fi distortions. In Orifice Valley, she transforms a self-portrait into a sensual but frightening and futuristic composition of billowing flesh and yawning orifices. With dizzy ?lan, they blur into something resembling bad but unforgettable dreams.
Meanwhile, a weirdly beautiful photograph by Chinese artist Zhang Huan informs a painterly backdrop of weeping willows with imagery that speaks to anonymous urban sprawl. In this photograph Huan, a visible button-pushing figure on the international art circuit since his work showed in New York in 1998, documents a performance in which he asked workers to stand chest-deep in one of the many fish ponds dotting Beijing. They become naked sentinels stuck in an absurd exercise that has no effect on a swiftly changing society.
There's also an interesting subtext to the title That Place, making a connection to the evolving Miami art scene where, in the past few years, new art has been popping up in a challenging variety of places. These venues bypass traditional spots such as commercial galleries and museums, with artists and their supporters transforming homes, gardens, ramshackle warehouses and Little Havana storefronts into much-needed forums for experimental and innovative voices.
Art exhibits in unused retail space in the Design District, provided by Dacra developer Craig Robins, make up one of the better-financed and higher-profile manifestations of that trend. Last December, Robins, along with Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, organized Humid in the Moore Building, bringing in Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art curator Dominic Molon to select a feisty range of work from Miami and other cities.
Humid, whose opening attracted such art world luminaries as artist John Baldessari and David Ross, former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, was an edgy, stylish addition to the impressive range of events that sprang up in anticipation of Art Basel Miami Beach.
That Place picks up where Humid left off. Robins-owned installations by Rirkrit Tiravanija, an influential artist of Thai origin who lives in New York, and John Bock of Germany sprawl with a curious and compulsive tangle of objects. If Marcel Duchamp had taken an extended shopping trip through the swap meets of South Florida, his finds might have resembled their artwork.
That's not necessarily a put-down.
''It actually requires extensive documentation for the general public to get,'' Trasobares, who's also curator of the Robins' private collection, says of Tiravanija's cheerfully chaotic 1997 Untitled (Playtime).
ART INSIDE ART
His work, shown in 1997 in the Johnson-designed sculpture garden at New York's Museum of Modern Art, shrinks the austere modernist geometry of architect Philip Johnson's classic 1949 Glass House into a size suitable for a child's playhouse.
Used for a time as a classroom by the museum's education staff, the boxy structure is now carpeted with swirling lengths of orange fabric, reminiscent of Buddhist monks' robes in Thailand. Peer through its glass walls and you see an assortment of objects gleaned from Tiravanija's past exhibits, including a kitschy plastic replica of Thai food and cans of curry with labels he designed.
Another installation featuring the junky clutter of props used in a performance Bock gave, also at MoMA, makes a bit more sense if you watch the video documenting it. With wacky and barbed wit the artist, wearing a Halloween-ish space suit, rambles about a cheesy stage set. He takes on a character that's both expert and quack of modern science and contemporary art, mischievously spewing forth arcane formulas and binary codes as if they are all the foundations a high-tech society needs.
This being the Design District, That Place also takes a spin through objects designed to comfort the body or propel it through space -- though of course artists' take on body-friendly design is never just a matter of being ergonomically correct. Thus we get Ray Azcuy's psychedelically colored levitating couch, Rachel Lachowicz's brittle and broken glass slippers and Trasobares' wood and marble structure, all part bookshelf, chair and monumental figurative statue.
Such places segue into art about bodily identity with Pippilotti Rist's spoofy rock-star video and Ana Mendieta's prescient 1972 series of photographs documenting her feminist performance, in which a man shaves his beard as she glues locks from this hirsute marker of strength on to her own smooth face.
SCENES FROM THE CITY
Urban places figure boldly in this show, including some pieces that prove unexpectedly wrenching in this post 9/11 era. Gabriel Orozco's photo Building and Birds is an upward-looking shot of a skyscraper with birds appearing to flee its dark tower. Sarah Morris' Midtown video is a jittery meshing of pedestrian crowds and minimalist flashes of more skyscrapers, tailor-made for anxious, Ritalin-deficient attention spans.
Mariko Mori's video, shot in a busy Tokyo subway, features an initially soothing, then saccharine soundtrack behind clips of the glamorous, silvery-costumed artist caressing a crystal ball with mesmerizing intensity. It's hard to tell which seems more artificial, the sleek subway or the slick fantasy girl.
One of the most energizing facets to this show is that Miami-based artists are put in the ambitious, cutting-edge contexts they deserve. Nowhere is this more true than in the inspired pairing of Tacita Dean's Rozel Point with a partial, ghostly recreation of George Sanchez's The Blessing, a full-scale model of Le Corbusier's classic emblem of Modernist architecture, the 1920s Villa Savoye, which Sanchez has sited in a dreary space under I-395 in Overtown.
Dean's piece, which exists only as a slide projection, shows the site of Robert Smithson's 1970 work Spiral Jetty, a legendary piece of Land Art of a spiraling, now-submerged incursion into the Great Salt Lake. Dean captures a mirage-like vista of sky and water in pastel pinks and blues, a place that also glimmers with hard-to-define promise and echoes of past innovation.
The theme of promise may be the most important part of this show, however subtle and long-range.
''I think it shows the great potential of what a Miami museum could be,'' Robins says. ``My hope is that the great collections that are being built in Miami will end up in an institution here. I don't think this is going to happen in the near future. But I do think there's an awareness now.''
Still, not all South Florida collectors speak in such sanguine terms. Another argues, off the record, that museums here with recently established contemporary collections haven't yet reached the maturity level to attract large gifts, saying, ``it takes years to build the kind of trust that would allow somebody to leave their collection to an institution. In New York, it's a privilege to give things to MOMA, because you know it's going to be cared for and nurtured in a way that it will live forever, even when you're dust. That remains to be seen down here.''
Robins, however, remains unswayed.
''[My family is] certainly open to making big commitments if we were doing that with other members of the community that are building serious collections,'' he says. ``Ultimately, our goal is to make Miami a place that people here and around the world can see some of the most important art of our time.''
Elisa Turner is The Herald's art critic.
''That Place,'' curated by Miami artist C?sar Trasobares in collaboration with collector Rosa de la Cruz, is at the Moore Building, 4040 NE Second Ave., and the Buick Building, 3841 NE Second Ave., in Miami's Design District through July 29. Included are site-specific works by Miami-based artists and work from the collections of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Ivelin and Craig Robins, Debra and Dennis Scholl, Toni and Daniel Holtz, Janet and William Eaglstein and Juan Lezcano. It's open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. Information: 305-573-811
May 6th, 2001
The Miami Herald
by ELISA TURNER
For Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, there's an art to capturing a child's appetite for wonder. And this is the very sort of art that feeds the communal soul of a city bloated with traffic and sprawl.
?We're very concerned with interactive public sculpture,? says Behar.
These two South Florida artists have a talent for offering wonderful, traffic-stopping surprises. In April they completed a capacious living room that appears to have landed magically on the corner of Northwest 40th Street and North Miami Avenue.
It's their most recent Design District mural, one in a series commissioned by developer Craig Robins. A tour de force completed on the side of a vacant building, it's called, well, The Living Room.
The effort, Behar announces excitedly, is all about ?trying to bring attention to the fact that ultimately we are alive.?
Marquardt, his wife as well as his collaborator, gently reigns in his focus.
?Surprise,? she prods him.
?We're trying to be surprised,? he continues, ?like when we were kids, and to look at a place like it's the very first time.?
A paradoxical piece that features an out-of-doors interior, The Living Room beckons to passersby with a sleekly modern sofa of fuschia cushions and a pair of white reading lamps. Its backdrop is a 42-foot-high wall aswirl with 300 pink-and-orange flowers, painted and interlaced like vintage wallpaper.
In tropical hues reminiscent of hibiscus hedges, ripening mangoes and coral reefs, the wallflowers frame a 10-foot-high window framed by gauzy white curtains. Through the window is a glorious view of clouds, sky, even a bird roosting on a telephone line.
Exposed to the sky and street, the mural welcomes a world of imaginative possibilities. It's a kind of larger-than-life, virtual version of Surrealist Ren? Magritte's famously dream-like paintings of clouds. And with its proportions both human-scale and huge, the room casts a delightful spell. For a wonderful second, you feel like a child entering a gigantic doll house.
?It's not easy to make a curtain this big, it's almost 40 feet long,? explains Marquardt. ?But we wanted to have it homey, open to the street. The idea is to have an open home spread around the [Design] District.?
Another room in that home is two blocks away. That mural, The Salon, graces the front of the Buick Building at 3841 NE Second Ave. and presents a grand pair of oval portraits, like old-fashioned family cameos, that also look both mythic and strange.
One is of Mackandal, a rebel slave from Haitian folklore who escaped the French by morphing into such creatures as the yellow and black butterfly arising from his shoulders in this portrait.
His companion is La Malinche, the native Mexican bride of Hernando Cort?s. She's portrayed as a New World Madonna cradling a lizard and regarding her complex past, present and future with a trio of eyes.
?She's also one of us, in the process of trying to invent ourselves in a new place,? says Behar, finding in both portraits a mirror of Miamians who moved here from so many other places and pasts to reconstruct their identities.
On the other side of the Buick Building, visible from Northeast 39th Street and Federal Highway as well as from Interstate 195 is The Bedroom, another colorful pair of murals.
One shows a man sleeping under a sky-blue blanket, another a view of his dreams in which his good side slugs it out with his bad side in a profoundly human match between boxers costumed as devil and angel.
?When you say devil in English, it has a diabolical meaning. But when you say it in Spanish, it means more like a trickster,? Behar says. ?In Latin American culture, at least in Argentina, if one doesn't have a little bit of the diablo, then one has something wrong, one becomes very dry, very boring.?
Dry is something this Argentine-born husband-and-wife team are not, asserts Vincent Scully, the eminent architectural historian now teaching at the University of Miami.
''What they are doing is very unusual, full of life, and witty,'' he says. ''It's wonderful art for Miami because it draws on South American imagery, but comes into its own in a jangled urban landscape that goes from high-rises to villages.''
The willowy, soft-spoken Marquardt and the shorter, vivacious Behar have been a couple since they were 18 and studying art and architecture in the Argentine resort city of Mar del Plata, where Marquardt ran a puppet theater.
In the 1970s, they participated in protests against Argentina's military dictatorship, even hiding a printing press in their studio. They knew many who were killed or disappeared.
Marquardt's 24-year-old sister was shot dead in the street, and her brother was jailed for five years. Only after he was released did they leave the country, arriving in New York in 1982. They attended the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies for a year, then settled in Miami where Marquardt began to paint and Behar took a job teaching architecture at UM.
''I think that period had an effect on our work,? Marquardt, 46, says of those dark years in Argentina. ?When the dictatorship came we were critical, we tried to act in our way to stop it.?
Their public work here ? a vivid fusion of art and architecture, like the red four-story ?M? resembling a giant alphabet block at the Miami Riverwalk Metrorail station ? is also, they say, a critique of the status quo.
?We try to resist that tendency of the city to forget about the public spaces of the streets,? Marquardt says, ?to just leave the street for the cars.?
With this tendency, bemoans Behar, 47, ?we are preventing the possibility of meeting each other. The contemporary city is about private space and comfort, it's not about public space and beauty.?
Their critique is laced with nods to the radical acts of Gordon Matta-Clark who, in the 1970s, carved vast holes in abandoned buildings in New York ghettos, documenting his opened-up architecture with photographs that became emblems of his belief that most urban housing blocked a sense of community.
Other sources are the Baroque plazas in Rome that made Marquardt feel as if she'd entered ?big rooms open to the sky.?
Closer to home, their painted walls play on the tradition of hand-painted signage in nearby Little Haiti, where goods such as papayas, fish and hair gel are illustrated in flourishing detail on storefronts.
These examples show how the two are ?very cosmopolitan, and yet they apply that knowledge to very local situations,? says Miami Art Museum senior curator Peter Boswell, who met the artists when he was the fine arts director at the American Academy in Rome.
Their murals create ?a very livable space, and people really respond to it,? he adds. ?There are big stretches in Miami-Dade County that are really quite ugly because no one has taken the care to make them look better. What they've done is a real enhancement.?
March 1st, 2000
The Miami Herald
Designing the Design
by Gail Meadows
Look up-up-up as you walk or drive along Northeast Second Street in Miami?s Design District, and you?ll see it. There, at the southeast corner with 39th Street: two giant portraits painted high above the street.
A building as canvas.
It?s the most visible sign of a move to turn the fashionable neighborhood into a sort of a open-air museum. Already, the Design District is decorated by some of the most striking ?public art? in South Florida.
And more is coming, owing largely to the efforts of Craig Robins, whose development company, Dacra, was a key player in the early days of South Beach?s renaissance and has been snapping up properties in the Design District - more the 15 buildings to date - making the company by far the biggest player in what?s being touted as a South Florida version of New York?s famous SoHo district.
Robins is a great believer in public art. It sets a tone, establishes an image, persuades others to live up to a certain standard, he offers.
?We?d like to build a unique aesthetic here,? he says of the district, which is about 10 minutes north of downtown Miami, sitting just west of Biscayne Boulevard and north of Interstate 195.
Once the exclusive domain of interior designers and decorators who did business only with ?the trade,? that is, others in the business, many stores in the area now welcome the public. Such chic merchandisers as Highlights (lighting) and Water Works (plumbing) have moved in, with Holly Hunt, the Manhattan designer showroom, on the way. In the works: restaurants, sidewalk cafes, residential lofts.
Quest for a certain look
It?s the kind of place that needs a certain look, says Robins.
And city officials agree. They made public art a key part of their plans when they sponsored a planning round-table in late 1997 called a charrette. The aim was to boost the then-struggling neighborhood.
DPZ, the well-known architecture firm led by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the architecture school at the University of Miami, and her husband, Andres Duany, led the effort. They came up with a plan that covered signs and parking and looked ahead to the addition of residential lofts to the business district.
Art that says, ?Hip?
And there would be art, too, big art, the kind that grabs people, the kind that cries, ?Hip!? There were fanciful visions of sculpture like A Family of Pencils?five, giant, colorful, ?designing? pencils that would stand at a Design District gateway.
?Liz?s idea,? says Robins, ?was that each building would have its own art.?
Usually, such public art is the domain of government?cities, counties, states. But Miami has no Art in Public Places program, nor does it have any money for such. Miami-Dade County, on the other hand, requires that 1.5 percent of the budget for new construction of public buildings go toward creating art; in Broward, it?s 2 percent.
But new public buildings weren?t going up in the Design District. So Robins looked to Los Angeles and other large cites where private entrepreneurs have begun to offer their own take on ?public art,? according to Vivian Rodriguez, director of the Miami-Dade County public art program.
A nationally recognized art collector, Robins, 36, began to issue his own commissions and display pieces that he had collected over
Huge fabric portraits
Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt of Miami Beach, veterans in the field of public art, had taken part in the planning charrette and come up with the Pencils idea. Robins hired them to paint the huge portraits for the Buick Building at 3841 NE Second Ave.
?Once a year, we?ll put a new image up there,? Marquardt says. ?You can change them out.?
Up since spring, the portraits are of ?popular heroes no one ever heard of,? Marquardt says -Makandal, an African slaveholder in French Colonial Haiti in 1750, and La Malinche, a daughter of Aztec lords in Mexico.
Arriving next week will be a bronze fountain designed by artist Kenny Scharf. Crafted in New York, it?s 12 feet tall and is to be placed in the plaza of the Buena Vista Building at 180 NE 39th St.
At the entry to his office in the Melin Building at 3930 NE Second Ave., indoors but open to the public, Robins placed The Gondola Shoe, a glittery, towering fabrication by artist Antoni Miralda. It?s a symbol of Venice and all the fantasies that a honeymoon destination embodies, according to Robins? official description of the work.
Another example of the developer?s view of public art: a series of vividly colored floor tiles indoors and out that connects three buildings along Northeast Second Avenue.
?We?re trying to create a look that says this district is of a piece, ? he says.
New rooftop sculpture
By next spring, to further solidify the image, he hopes to have in place dramatic new sculpture atop a building in the northwest corner of 40th Street and North Miami Avenue. Commuters on I-195 would see the new display as they whiz to and from Miami Beach.
?It?ll be huge, oversize, concrete furniture, visible from the expressway,? Robins says.
First, two of the building?s walls must by extended 30 feet into the air. Then, a ?window? will be created to open to the sky; and then faux ?wallpaper? will be added. Again, artists Marquardt and Behar are to do the work.
?I think what he?s doing is great,? Rodriguez says of Robins.
Dena Bianchino, a Miami assistant city manager who has worked to boost the district, also likes what she sees.
?My husband and I were there Sunday, walking around and looking, and it was just great,? says Bianchino.
It?s important, says Robins, that art is out in constant public view.
?Can you imagine what would have happened to art through the centuries if only art dealers had been allowed to see it??