Rene Gonzalez, AIA—one of Miami's most Miami-ish contemporary architects—was participating in a special Design Miami panel Wednesday afternoon along with former head of the Miami Art Museum Terry Riley, AIA, and designer Carlos Zapata, when a particularly keen audience member asked the question that's been on the minds of many this week: Why, oh why, doesn't Miami have a proper public transit system? "We do," Gonzalez shot back. "It's called Uber."
He, Riley and the rest had been trying to work out what, exactly, makes their fair city's urban life so distinct from other metropolitan centers, and pushing back a bit against those who would make it "more like New York," as Gonzalez put it. It was only the night before, in an Uber car headed back from the Design District, that a driver had mentioned in passing that every single one of his customers over the last three days had been a Gothamite in town for Design Miami or its sister fair, Art Basel. Yes, there are a lot of pushy Manhattan types in town, and doubtless they'd all be stuck but for Uber; but even with the ride-on-demand app, one is often stuck anyhow, idling in traffic for what seems like ages trying to get from vernissage to dinner to after-hours party.
About the only place that things seemed to be moving quickly in the event's first couple days was in the Design Miami tent, where executive director Rodman Primack kicked things off early Tuesday alongside Design Visionary award winner Peter Marino, FAIA, and performance artist Marina Abramovich, whose "Counting the Rice" installation (with table by Daniel Libeskind, AIA) was on display at the fair. "After ten years, we've grown to 35 galleries," noted Primack. "We could probably host 75 to 100 based on the applications we get." After years where the shaky market seemed to be a prime topic of conversation, exhibitors were quick to cite the prospect of strong sales as a major reason for coming to Miami now: Beirut-based gallery Carwan was making its first appearance at the show, and founder Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte said he chose this year to make the move because "we believe the fair gives great exposure, and at the moment America has a good economy."
Foot traffic, unlike the vehicular kind, was definitely brisk, but not every designer and gallery owner was solely focused on wheeling and dealing. In the booth of South African retail collective Southern Guild, surface designer Atang Tshikare was patiently drawing an ornate pattern on the booth wall. "It's something I can do without thinking," he said, and continued scrawling away, ignoring the swarming crowds.