December 1st, 2008
Talking Point: Craig Robins
by Johanna Angerman
The founder of Miami's Design District and co-founder of Design Miami talks about the impact of the economic downturn and how to turn Dubai into a design destination
Do you think that sales during Design Miami in December will be affected by the economic downturn?
In general I think that the art and design markets are going to be affected, but with design, it's such a growing industry that it'll still have some vitality. This will be an incredible time to get great material. There will be much better material available.
How do you mean?
More people are going to want to sell, are going to need to sell, really good material.
Your company, Dacra, has completely regenerated the area of Miami that is known the design district. What's your next move?
I'm putting a lot of energy into re-inventing or advancing the design district as a place. For me, the next big step is to bring international fashion there. The really interesting international brands don't exist in Miami and so I've been trying to create a street that will have only fashion. At the same time, we're looking at many different places around the world where we could take these ideas and concepts, in new and different ways.
Where else are you looking to develop design districts?
We now have offices in Beijing and Shanghai. My initial approach to China is to learn, more than to come in and act like I know it all. I'm also looking at the Middle East.
The business side of design and the profits that can be made from something like a design district are rarely discussed. Do you think it's a growing market?
I'm amazed at how many people do similar things around the world. More than anything, I try to build a community and I use architecture and design as creative disciplines for the purpose of furthering that sense of community, of an area that brings people together for different purposes. I like to get in working on something and let it evolve over time. So it's a very different approach to the one that most developers take. I don't go into something and say "How am I going to make the most profit?", I say
"How can I make this place more valuable over time?".
Will people start to take onboard the fact that quick fixes aren't necessarily the best in the long term?
When everything is going up, people will buy anything, they're not really discerning. When things start to go down, then people
look a little more carefully, and the real solid things are the ones that catch on. Similarly, anywhere in the world, if we work on quality, and we're not focused on quantity and quick profits, but on building a sense of place, that's where you have the best chance of succeeding economically in the long term.
You said that you are interested in the Middle East, but surely Dubai is the opposite - a place where quantity is rated over quality.
Well that's why a place like Dubai could present a really interesting opportunity, because no one is going in there and saying "I want to make a really special community". It would be nice for Dubai to have a place that's real, you know, that is fun to go and hang out in, or live, or walk, or shop. And I think that possibility exists.
Do you think that Dubai is the place with the most potential in the Middle East for Dacra?
I'm not enough of an expert yet. Dubai seems the most open to people, it's like Disneyworld, or Las Vegas. There's a real potential to infuse it with culture - that's what we did with Miami.
February 1st, 2006
by Justin McGuirk
Miami is American's good-time town. This pincushion of condominium towers used to be the preserve of sun-seeking retirees from the north and Latin american immigrants from the south. But galvanised by the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair, the city is gaining a reputation as a place of culture, and is now vaunting its museums as much as its hotels and nightclubs. So it would only make sense it would launch a design fair.
The impetus for this new approach comes from Miami’s art fair. In the first week of December the art world decamps to the city for Art Basel Miami Beach. Only in its fourth year, this huge event was attended by more than 200 galleries exhibiting an estimated $2 billion worth of art, and attracting 1,000 journalists and five satellite fairs for less established galleries. But this year there was a design parasite, called design.05 Miami. By emulating the Art Basel model, design.05 has distinguished itself from the growing number of design fairs taking place in cities all over the world.
Arguably, the reason why Art Basel Miami Beach is such a success is because of the city's tropical appeal to dealers, buyers and art-world apparatchiks wanting a break from their wintry European and northern American cities. The focus of their attention is South Beach, the glamorous art deco strip of the Miami Beach peninsula that sits off the mainland, away from downtown Miami. Here, the art crowd can saunter one block from their fashionable hotels on Collins Avenue to the Convention Center on Washington Avenue and then two blocks back to the beach. That sliver is about as much of Miami as many of them know.
Design.05 is a good ten-minute drive across one of the causeways, in the Design District. Miami has to be one of the few cities in the world with a "design district" - not even Rotterdam, Milan or London have one - and yet the city is not especially known for designers or manufacturers. This warehouserich former antiques district is in the grip of regeneration, an aspiring Clerkenwell or Tribeca. Its revival has been spearheaded by Miami's most prominent developer, Craig Robins, who owns a significant portion of the Design District's 18 blocks.
"Art Basel might be the most interesting cultural happening in the United States right now," says Robins. "It has helped redefine Miami as a great city of cultural substance. Not only is it a town to come and have fun in but it's a place where you can learn and be stimulated creatively."
Robins has a clear vested interested in the success of this latest cultural venture, design.05, since it will drive up the value of the area he owns so much of. In fact, the fair takes place in his headquarters, a 1920s warehouse called the Moore Building. One of the building's attractions during the fair - and a major draw for the art crowd - is a massive polystyrene installation by Zaha Hadid that bridges the atrium between the four floors like strings of chewing gum. Around this centrepiece, 15 leading design galleries, invited chiefly from London, Paris and New York (although one is from Shanghai), are exhibiting - and selling - some of their finest furniture.
Straight away, two things make what is taking place in this building stand out from any other major design fair. The first is that it follows the commercial gallery model of the art fairs rather than having stalls by manufacturers or designers. The second is that classic, or vintage, furniture from the post-war period onwards is for sale next to contemporary items. The work of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand is especially well represented, supported by pieces by other modernists from Le Corbusier to Donald Judd. But there were also new works, notably by Ron Arad, Ettore Sottsass and the Swedish design group, Front. "It's a shift from the traditional trade show and the way design has been presented up until now," says Ambra Medda, who, with her partner Amy Lau, organized design.05. "We wanted to be more exclusive, invitation only," explains Lau. "And we wanted to ask who we thought were the best dealers in the world and to give them a lot of space so they could cultivate an environment and curate their shows." The result is that this is more of a collector's fair, certainly not an event to come and buy in bulk or to find the most ergonomic task chair. “It’s definitely geared to a connoisseur of design, a person who has a level of sophistication and appreciation," says Lau. The model adopted by design.05 is a lucrative one for the exhibiting galleries.
Given the financial precedent set by the Art Basel fair, where multi-million dollar works were selling to both private collectors and museums, it didn't seem unreasonable for rare design pieces to be selling at hundreds of thousands of dollars. "I think everyone who was exhibiting did very well," says Barry Friedman, whose gallery, Barry Friedman Ltd., was showing the most contemporary work. "We sold several pieces at six figures each." While design.05 may be geared to wealthy connoisseurs, the period pieces give the event a historical dimension much like a museum's. It is a fair where people can come and learn about design history. "It makes you see design as much more in a continuum," says San Francisco-based product designer Yves Behar, who was exhibiting a chandelier for Swarovski in a separate space. "There are trends and recurring themes - it's a conversation that makes design look very alive."
Like Art Basel, design.05 is surrounded by satellite events and exhibitions in the Design District. Ron Arad had his own installation around the corner in which a series of one-off mirrored tables sprawled across the floor and up the walls. Around another corner, New York retailer Murray Moss was presenting pieces from the Moss Gallery, including work by Gaetano Pesce, the Campana brothers and Dutch designer Marten Baas.
Here, in the heart of what Moss calls "the design ghetto", daily-panel discussions took place, one of which was titled Crashing the Art Party if the title took a humourous approach to the fair's parasitical status, the panel was rather more defensive about it. At Moss' suggestion that people might merely be buying furniture that goes with the art they bought across town, Gaetano Pesce and MoMA's Terry Riley - who has built himself a house in the Design District-argued determinedly that there was no point making a distinction anymore between art and design, not least because their methods are overlapping. Yet there was little need to justify design.05's presence in Miami. Aside from it making perfect business sense to draw on the city's momen-tarily inflated population of buyers and culturati, the fair has established what will almost certainly become a popular model of design exhibition: commercial and exclusive yet accessible and educational, a fair for collectors and enthusiasts not just design world professionals or bulk buyers.
Miami may not yet be the year-round cultural capital that it aspires to be, but as a lifestyle capital it is self-assured. And the irony is that it took a brash, style-conscious beach town to demonstrate how to run a design fair that is about quality rather than just novelty.