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Design Miami Dispatch: Modernists Enjoy a Non-Modernist Experience

By Fred A. Bernstein
December 5, 2013
Photo © Patrick McMullan Company
Attendees at a dinner hosted by developer David Martin at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum. The dinner was organized in part by Terry Riley, the former Museum of Modern Art curator, who recently helped Martin choose OMA to design a condo complex for a site Terra and the Related Group co-own in Coconut Grove.

Converging on Miami during “Basel week,” the world’s top architects had lots to talk about—OMA’s convention center project, Herzog & de Meuron’s new museum, and Zaha Hadid’s trippy condo building expected to rise on a site that now houses a gas station and pawn shop. The sales office, in an existing tower by Miami architect Chad Oppenheim, features curves reminiscent of Hadid’s much-discussed stadium in Doha. But it’s hard to talk over loud music, which is why not all the architects who gathered for dinner at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum—Richard Meier, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, OMA’s Shohei Shigematsu, Herzog & de Meuron partner Christine Binswanger, Bjarke Ingels, Enrique Norten, Jurgen Mayer H., Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Laurinda Spear, Bernardo Fort-Brescia, Oppenheim, and half a dozen others—made it to dessert. 

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The soundtrack was provided by Leslie and the LYs, a “pop dance comedy trio” imported for the evening from Ames, Iowa. ("We did it on purpose," said Wolfsonian director Cathy Leff. "We wanted Modernists to have a non-Modernist experience.") The host was David Martin, a second-generation developer (his father, Pedro Martin, founded the Terra Group), who has said his goal is to “be the guy who gets the most amazing architects and introduces them to the psychographics” of Floridians. His coming out party, in the Wolfsonian’s lobby, was organized in part by Terry Riley, the former Museum of Modern Art curator, who recently helped Martin choose OMA to design a condo complex for a site Terra and the Related Group co-own in Coconut Grove. Nouvel, Christian de Portzamparc, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro were eliminated during the informal competition, but Nouvel gamely showed up for the dinner, spending most of the night chatting with lighting designer Herve Descottes in French. “I’m sure he’s thrilled to be here,” said Martin, who described the dinner as heralding an era of cooperation rather than competition among architects.

Mitchell Wolfson Jr., the museum’s founder, compared the rise of Miami in the 21st century to the rise of modern Rome in the 20th, which happens to be a subject of current Wolfsonian exhibition. Rising cities notwithstanding, there were whispers about rising waters, and whether climate change is making Miami developers wary.

Norman Foster stayed just a few minutes (his master plan for the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach was unveiled earlier in the day); Richard Meier lasted about an hour before ducking out. There was no time to ask Meier about the collages he is showing at Art Basel in the Galerie Gmurzynska booth, which he designed. The Constructivist-style artworks are composed of ephemera like driver’s licenses, crushed beer cans, matchbooks, and raw photographs of naked women showing absolutely everything except the subtlety Meier’s architecture is known for.

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