“On a recent Saturday night in Miami, the modern Asian restaurant Pao at the Faena Hotel Miami Beach (faena.com/miami-beach) sizzled. A well-dressed crowd filled the circular space, while gaping at the half-red, half-gold Damien Hirst unicorn sculpture towering over the room on a gold pedestal.
There was even more action in the largest of the hotel’s five bars, the Living Room. There, the rich red tones juxtaposed with animal print fabrics exuded glamour, and glitterati clutched colorful cocktails and champagne flutes while eyeing the happening scene. Maybe they hoped for a star sighting? Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna and Rita Ora had recently been at the hotel. Who would show on this night? As the evening wore on, the line outside the bar swelled.”
—The New York Times / Travel - “How the Faena District Is Transforming Miami’s Mid-Beach.” Shivani Vora, June 23, 2016
The number of licensed architects in the US has continued to grow, according to latest reports from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. While the number of schools teaching architecture is also growing at a rapid pace, the contexts within which well thought-out architectural service may manifest itself are becoming increasingly limited. What we see instead are large parts of cities being dominated by an attitude toward architectural design that shuns any sort of exploration and prefers guaranteed-safe, hackneyed solutions. The search for quality is confined almost exclusively to a diminishing number of introverted, elitist, and solitary projects.
Well thought-out architectural service is demanded with appetite and enthusiasm only for such projects, for creating these objets du désir. And what are architects doing about this? What ethical guidelines provide a framework for what they do? For those of us who must turn out large-scale projects for many different settings, it’s never easy to take even a short step back from something we’re working on, to put a little distance between ourselves and the task at hand, and to talk about it all objectively. On the other hand it’s also apparent that in such a socioeconomic landscape, architects usually end up supplying grist to the mill whether they like it or not.
This studio poses a series of questions addressing this very issue. These are questions that are not easy to answer, for which it may not be necessary to come up with a unique and clear response in every case, but which ought always to be kept on the agenda. This studio also invites its participants to play a game in which they will very likely be the losers.
- Given the current climate and how impossible it may seem to do one’s job without being caught up in the cogs of the system, what stratagems are available to architects in order to deal with public-realm issues?
- However lacking any expectations along such lines may be, what specifically can be done for the sake of the common good in each situation, even in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful gentrification process?
- However hollowed-out and vacuous it may have become of late, how may the concept of “sustainability” be kept viable in all of its many different dimensions and meanings?
- Is it possible to achieve the sort of richness that emerges when design brings different social classes into intimate contact with one another even if that means having to work against generally-accepted social choices?
- Can we even imagine the possibility of countering and overcoming, through strategic planning, a thorny issue that has come to dominate the urban landscape of late: the problem of “urban segregation” and the phenomenon of “social segregation” to which it gives rise?
The game that studio participants are being invited to join will play out in Miami Beach. Yes, it is a game. But it’s also a game that needs to be taken very seriously. Yet it’s not a game in which the main objective is to win. It’s rather a game in which there are comfortable “safe spaces” that we’d like to shake up a little; we’ll try to understand what’s lying right beneath our noses, and we’ll work together to discover and to learn. We’ll create a fictional construct of this city, because Miami Beach represents the glitziest and latest-model instance of the “social choices” just mentioned. We’ll do this in a place that is outrageously mad—downright bonkers, even—but equally and no less extraordinary; in streets where the glamorous and the drab run cheek-by-jowl and the elegant and the dowdy parade around arm in arm.
This is a place where these projects, the majority of which were drawn up by starchitects based in Europe and even in Asia and Africa, make absolutely no contribution whatsoever to the city in terms of its urban or public spaces. What is even more disturbing is that neither investors nor public authorities have ever so much as uttered an expectation that such a contribution ought to be made. Among the many questions raised by these projects that deserve to be examined is the fact that hardly any of these architects have taken part in the design processes of projects intended for middle- or lower-class users or concerned with urban public spaces—and, moreover, that no one has ever asked them to do so.
Rules, Methods and Process
Some architects—quite a few, in fact—sketch as they think, and regard this as a sort of professional skill. They express their thoughts through different forms, variations, images, and planimetric analyses. Whether they do it by hand or on a computer, and whether their output is plain or pretentious, the sketches and drawings are a way for these architects to develop their thoughts.
The first—and perhaps only—rule of this game is that this sketching process must be put off for as long as is absolutely possible, and our players must instead enter into multidimensional and in-depth relationships with the “situation,” which is to say the context, the region, and the historical, sociological, demographic, and physical landscape. Instead of immediately reaching for the pencil, we will try to understand the place that we’re going to deal with and problematize it head-to-toe as we seek to alter its fate. We will do this both from a distance and through hands-on, up-close contact. We will argue. We will ask questions. We will explore and investigate. We will have recourse to many different sources and talk in person with local actors. We will meet with authorities and administrators, project developers, investors, users, and architects who are working in the area. We will prepare in advance to ensure that our meetings are as productive as possible. Sometimes we may just listen; sometimes we may pose questions that will make people angry.
Of course the nature of the deliverables at the end of all of this is very important; but success will also lie somewhat in the productivity of the overall process itself. For this reason it will be important for players to be real participants, undertaking significant roles of their own as the process unfolds.
A major port city in the state of Florida, Miami is also a place full of surprises and contrasts, a place that is both weird and interesting. With a full-time resident population approaching just half a million, Miami has received more inward foreign migration than most American cities. Subordinate districts whose inhabitants consist of the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive every year mostly from Latin American countries are rapidly transforming the city’s face. In a city where wildly extravagant parties are thrown, one also encounters poverty on a scale rarely to be found elsewhere.
Miami Beach is an island city, connected by bridges to mainland Miami. Wide beaches stretch from North Shore Open Space Park, past palm-lined Lummus Park, to South Pointe Park. The southern end, South Beach, is known for its international cachet, for its models and celebrities, and for the pastel-colored early 20th-century architecture of the Art Deco Historic district, especially along Ocean Drive.
This area is also something of a shop-window for starchitects like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this brief. Besides strings of buildings put up by some of the region’s most active practices such as Arquitectonica, it’s possible to come across individual and glamorous objets du désir, each one manifesting a unique world of its own, authored by some of Europe’s leading architects.
Unarguably, however, the one project that most clearly reveals the socioeconomic layers of this area and the overall preferences of its market is the Porsche Design Tower, designed by the Porsche Design Group. This project’s conceptual playbook looks as if it was informed by the relationship between its residents and their cars. To quote the project group’s CEO, Juergen Gessler:
“Exclusivity has never felt this good as you soar above the Atlantic, in a glass elevator, on your way to your very own private garage in the sky. The Porsche Design Tower is the first of its kind anywhere; each unit comes equipped with an elevator… for your car. You don’t have to leave your car until you are inside your apartment.”
Sites and Program
The part of Miami Beach on which this project will focus is the centrally-located area known as Mid-Beach. As the first stage of work, the studio will carry out a holistic examination of this section of the city. This will involve identifying and assessing the existing building stock and its quality, issues that facilitate and hinder use, transportation preferences, public and urban features, and similar general matters in the context of antithetical concepts such as porous/gated, public/private, high/low, sparse/dense. In the conduct of this portion of the studio, the objective will be to address the questions posed at the beginning of this brief.
Two sections (identified in red below)—together with all the buildings in them—were recently acquired by investors whose intent, just like that of any other investor, is to make money through the projects that are to be undertaken here. What appears to be different in this particular case is that the owners seem prepared to listen to the architects with whom they will be working, and to give consideration to the different approaches that those architects may suggest. It must of course not be forgotten that this investor is an accomplished player in a very cut-throat environment; and naturally the owners wish to build spectacular residences. But there’s also evidence of a kind of social consciousness which inspires hope that projects could be developed that also contribute positively to the area’s public realm. What’s more, the owners are keen about art, and think that cultural activities play an important role in social progress. Who can say? Maybe—perhaps in all likelihood—we are talking here about a game that, once again, we have only a very small chance of winning. But it’s nonetheless a game that’s worth playing: once more, untiringly, persistently.
After all, we’re part of this system too …
The activities that are to be carried out in this area will be undertaken at two different scales. Students will begin with group research, and then develop schemes individually unless they prefer otherwise.
The comprehensive area readings that are made during the early stages of the project will be developed jointly by all participants, working together until a particular level has been reached in terms of the urban context. A scale model of the area will be produced as a base for future studies.
Participants will then address issues in greater detail on an individual basis. In this stage they will advance towards a much more speculative level of urban solutions on the one hand while producing building-scale suggestions for the particular areas they have chosen on the other. This part of the process will also include the development of programs for the proposed suggestions. The overarching goal of this endeavor will be to create a kind of consensus between the investor’s dreams and the other issues that architects ought to be addressing.
Week 2 Urban Context & Site Analysis; Start of Site Model
Week 3 Urban Context Presentations; End of Site Model
Week 4–5 Development of Individual Programs and Preliminary Design Approach
Week 6 Site Trip & Preliminary Review
Week 7–9 Proposal Development & Mid-Term Reviews
Week 10–12 Proposal Refinement
Week 14–16 Proposal Completion & Final Jury