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Miami Dispatch: Starchitecture and Snarkitecture

By Fred A. Bernstein
December 5, 2012

The death of starchitecture has been greatly exaggerated, if events in Miami this week are any indication. As Art Basel Miami Beach, Design Miami, and a dozen other art fairs open, Herzog & de Meuron's Perez Art Museum Miami (the recently renamed Miami Art Museum) is nearing completion—Jacques Herzog will be in town to give tours—and sites are being readied for a parking garage by Zaha Hadid and an OMA-designed hotel tower on Collins Avenue. OMA principal Rem Koolhaas is compared, improbably, to Baron Haussmann, the Emperor Hadrian, and Carmen Miranda on billboards promoting the project.

Design-Miami-2012
Photo by Fred A. Bernstein
Snarkitecture's entry pavilion at the Design Miami fair.
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At the same time, the very convention center where the Art Basel fair is being held may soon be a construction site. With corruption investigations ended, the city will now decide whether to proceed with plans to enlarge the facility. After an evaluation committee ranked designs by Koolhaas and his former protégé Bjarke Ingels second and first, respectively, Ingels himself referred to the impending run-off as "oedipal." Meanwhile, Herzog & de Meuron and Ingels' firm, BIG, have Miami condo projects in the works.

At Design Miami, even younger architects got a share of the spotlight. Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, who run the New York-based studio Snarkitecture, created an entry pavilion for the fair out of giant, inflatable stalactites that riff on last year's Design Miami installation by David Adjaye. Inside, among the design objects on offer from some 30 dealers, furniture by Snarkitecture stood out, as did pieces by Minneapolis collective Ro/Lu. One of their plywood chairs was derived from a granite bench by Scott Burton, but with quirkier proportions. Ro/Lu designers work from photographs of objects they have never seen, to leave room for (mis)interpretation.

The hit of the show was Asif Khan. At a dinner party last spring Khan, a 33-year-old London architect and recent graduate of the Architecture Association, met Nadja Swarovski, scion of her family's crystal company, and showed her photos of his work. Swarovski commissioned Khan to create an installation for Design Miami—part of the company’s ongoing collaboration with architects and designers—and what he came up with is the best Swarovski piece in years: a small, gabled structure made of 1.4 million crystals in a honeycomb pattern sandwiched between sheets of glass. The effect is dazzling, and would seem to have applications beyond the design fair. Celebrating at the Philippe Starck-designed Delano Hotel, a jubilant Khan was asked if the lesson for young architects is to attend more dinner parties. He answered, "No. The lesson is work really hard, so you have something to show at dinner parties."

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