May 1st, 2007
Office or Gallery?
by Linda Lee
Craig Robins is the man who more or less single-handedly reinvented a Miami commercial area as a destination for such manufacturer's showrooms as Kartell, Ligne Roset, and soon, Driade and Vitra. He also brought in retailer Luminaire, the local answer to Moss. And during Art Basel Miami Beach, the design district is home to a swanky furniture fair, Design Miami/, along with one of the week's liveliest street parties. So what was Robins's development company, DACRA, doing with a headquarters a causeway away, in Miami Beach? In 1987, when the company got its start, Robins was concentrating on South Beach property. "That was the frontier," he explains. "Now Miami is more fertile ground."
Robins's brief for the new DACRA, in the design district at last: Turn a 17,000-square-foot fourth floor into an office-cum-gallery ? centered around a tribute to Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. The job was carried out by K/R principal John Keenen, who has worked on a variety of Robins projects over the last seven years. K/R designed his ownpied-?-terre in New York, plus several pending commercial projects in Miami, including a hotel. "John is basically our in-house design director," Robins says. Terence Riley, the "R" in K/R, is a consulting architect in the practice. Formerly chief architecture and design curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art, he now serves as director of the Miami Art Museum and famously built himself a double courtyard house in the design district.
The new DACRA's high wooden ceiling, steel trusses, and bluish-gray poured resin flooring "look like the great Chelsea gallery spaces in New York," Keenen says. High design holds pride of place, with Zaha Hadid's Iceberg bench greeting visitors as they step off the elevator. In reception, Ron Arad's Oh-Void carbon-fiber chair keeps company with a trio of works by Joseph Beuys: a large photograph titled La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi; a sculpture Sled, placed on a low pedestal; and Silberbesen und Besen Ohne Haare, two brooms leaning against the wall.
Spotlighting adds drama to the installations ? think Paul McCarthy's monumental Michael Jackson figure, reclining with a monkey, or Cosima von Bonin's surreal soft sculpture of giant mushrooms. To increase sunshine, Keenen used 40-plus randomly arranged circular skylights, each with UV coating to protect the art. Originally, the space had windows facing only north. K/R punched windows into the south wall, too, creating a view of downtown. The north and south sides are now lined by 28 glass-fronted offices for staff from DACRA itself; Robins's marketing and graphic-design entity, Bridge House; and the two-year-old Design Miami/, spearheaded by Robins's girlfriend, Ambra Medda. Keenen also put one high window in the west wall to give Robins's office better light and a view over his design-district domain. Something any Floridian would notice is the lack of windows on the east side, looking toward Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach beyond. Symbolic? "Leaving Miami Beach was a big emotional statement for us," Robins admits.
Furnishings, a mix of modern and contemporary, added almost $1 million to the $3 million renovation budget. A Jean Prouv? teacher's desk is the centerpiece of Robins's office. "A very rare piece, with room for three people on a side," he says. The office also features a meeting table from Maarten Baas's Smoke series, a sofa by Frank Gehry, and two Gio Ponti chairs. It was Keenen who encouraged Robins to buy his first major piece, a Ponti desk, for the New York apartment.
The pair's relationship is remarkably cordial. "He works with architects and designers a lot, and he wants to know your ideas," Keenan says. Robins adds, "John is a very, very talented, sensitive person. He also has great skill in combining architectural and interior design issues." Keenen again: "When you present ideas, if you really believe in them, he respects that." Robins did insist that the office incorporate his art collection, Keenen says, "in a meaningful way." But as much as Robins loves art, he wouln't consider the interior a success if it worked only as a gallery. "Administratively, it's incredible. I can see everybody," he says. "Even with all that glass, though, most of the spaces have a real sense of privacy. That's K/R's genius."
Glass sliders front the central enclosure's five offices, two conference rooms, and break room. (The latter is furnished with a cheerful selection of candy-colored Arne Jacobsen chairs, but McCarthy's Hot Dog, a photograph of a man cramming his mouth with sausages, initially gave the staff pause.) In spite of the fact that cedar siding stained chocolate brown clads most of this freestanding volume, its rectangular shape is what reminds Robins not just of the actual Glass House but also of Rirkrit Tiravanija's 6-foot-tall scale model of the modernist landmark. Robins owns the piece, called Untitled (Playtime), and previouly displayed it in the building lobby. Back in 1997, the house model was part of an exhibition at Johnson's professional home, MoMA.