Crystal-maker Swarovski hosted its annual Design Miami dinner in a penthouse high above the Delano Hotel in South Beach this past Thursday, celebrating its just-unveiled collaboration with Mexican architect Fernando Romero, Hon. FAIA. The guest of honor and other worthies (among them Yves Béhar, 2015’s Design Miami Visionary Award-winner) were flanked by high-definition televisions displaying images of the solar surface from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center—glimmering close-ups of golden magma that echoed the crimson Epcot-esque bubble of El Sol, the piece Romero had created for Swarovski’s booth at the fair. Beside the screens, through the dark windows all around, the ocean and skyline flashed at intervals, as an unseasonable thunderstorm shook the city for the third day running. Dramatic, it was.
Miami felt different this year: darker, odder, and one whole hell of a lot wetter. John Ruskin, 19th-century England’s great architectural provocateur and sometime literary critic, coined the phrase “pathetic fallacy” to decry the trite novelistic device of using weather to reflect human emotions; he didn’t, however, say anything about weather and design fairs, so hopefully he’ll rest easy in his grave when he hears that the shows and much of the peripheral action around town last week seemed to have a wild, windswept quality, blowing in from out of nowhere and leaving everybody a little dazed.
Inside the tent, the stall for New York gallery Chamber featured Quintus Kropholler’s “Black Gold”, a collection of mysterious, almost hieratic architectural forms rendered in a stubbly and bituminous concrete. “There’s a great contrast between the irregularity of the material and the regularity [of] the shapes that creates a really nice balance,” Chamber founder Juan Garcia Mosqueda said; the combination gave the pieces some of the menacing grandeur of Aztec monuments. Just across the corridor, London- and Paris-based Carpenters Workshop was also possessed of a certain glamorous gloom, complete with decorative black cats from Studio Job. “It’s good to feel that we’re challenging people aesthetically,” said gallery co-director Loïc Le Gaillard, who reported that business had been, despite the drear, fairly good.
The backlash against the splish-splash only made some people seem more determined than usual to have a good time. Braving the elements and beaming with pride, architect Rene Gonzalez, AIA, and his developer-client David Martin strolled around one of the generous balconies of their new condo tower in the South of Fifth district. “What made this possible was a real friendship between the two of us,” Martin said. Glass, as the building is called, reflects the area’s architectural past with an irregularly-patterned fritted façade that recalls the dynamism of Art Deco without any of the style’s blocky, opaque massing. It looked good even under gray skies, though as Miami Herald critic Alastair Gordon noted, “The frits look a little like streaks of rain.”
Programming took place mostly as scheduled at the outdoor “Belong. Here. Now.” installation, an initiative of popular home-share app Airbnb that brought a host of creative activities to a public space directly across from the Design Miami tent. One had the distinct sensation that the large forum-like venue—created by Chicago-based firm Design With Co.—was the thin end of a possible promotional wedge: should we be expecting Airbnb-branded furniture and homeware products in the near future? “It’s not something we’ve considered specifically,” said Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, though he admitted it might be a “possibility” in the future. “Belong. Here. Now.”, with its friendly PoMo-ish arches and armatures, was a welcoming presence along the somewhat barren 19th St. corridor, though the concrete lot on which in which it was located was somewhat puddle-strewn most of the week.
As, for that matter, was almost everything else. In the middle of an elegant Design District lunch for omni-cultural magazine White Zinfandel (replete with triangular plates by designer Christian Haas), the drizzle started again, sending diners scurrying back under the eaves of Sou Fujimoto’s recently opened Palm Court; after a party late Thursday at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (where Herzog & de Meuron’s huge vertical planters have grown in splendidly since last year’s debut), a sudden cloudburst caught all the departing guests unprepared and desperate for cabs. Among the elegant crowds that dashed in and out of cocktail functions for Dom Perignon and Ducati, only one of the well-heeled sophisticates in attendance seemed to have made the right sartorial move: mega-developer Robbie Antonio—in town to promote Revolution, a system of low-cost housing designed by high-profile architects including Zaha Hadid, Hon. FAIA, and Gluckman Tang—was rarely seen without his signature black jacket over black tee. Based in Manila, Philippines, maybe he just knows something about how to dress for a monsoon.
mood on the global design scene is really turning black or not is anyone’s
guess, Design Miami being a notoriously uncertain weather vane for the direction
of practice as a whole. But whispers that some buyers headed home early amidst
the frustrations of too much traffic and too little new work did nothing to
brighten the mood. Somewhere, Ruskin stirs uneasy.