The new Design District in Miami.
Ian Volner The new Design District in Miami.


One of the odd comforts about the architecture world is that no matter where you fetch up—whatever strange coast or foreign capital—if there's some kind of design function going on, certain familiar dramatis personae are bound to be there. Design Miami, which kicked off Monday and early Tuesday with a series of tours and openings, has a very specific recurring cast of characters, and they were all hitting their places as things got underway this week.

Craig Robins in the Design District.
Ian Volner Craig Robins in the Design District.

Among the main protagonists as ever was Craig Robins, the one-man real-estate-and-culture wizard who turned a brace of rundown lots in the Wynwood District into the now-thriving Design District. Standing in the just-finished plaza of the neighborhood's luxury-retail cluster, shadowed by a new Sou Fujimoto building and a monumental statue bust of Buckmister Fuller, Robins soaked in the appreciative remarks of Miami Mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado, who said that for Miami to truly "be a global city... we need what we're getting here," gesturing at the glitzy fashion outlets that Robins has brought to the area. The developer himself addressed the attendees at the kick-off event, only to be drowned out by air traffic overhead. "It's all Richard Nixon's fault," he explained: Apparently the ex-president ordered flight paths shifted away from his Key Biscayne, Fla., home, sending them right over Wynwood.

A statue of Peter Marino, FAIA, in his Design Miami booth.
Ian Volner A statue of Peter Marino, FAIA, in his Design Miami booth.

Reversing that misfortune would not seem entirely beyond the powers of Robins and his colleagues, among whom Rodman Primack—who was named Executive Director of Design Miami this past February—is another principal player who's already staged a coup or two. Perhaps most daringly, he and the fair directors conspired to make Peter Marino, FAIA—architect to the fashion stars and a hard-to-miss character at any design-world event—the first-ever winner of the fair's Design Visionary award. Marino did not mince words at an event Tuesday morning debuting his leather-bound booth at the Design Miami tent, saying that he felt design pedagogy was "failing young architects aesthetically," and called for a return to a thorough art-historical education for would-be designers.

Naihan Li's "I Am A Monument," on display at Beijing's Gallery ALL.
Ian Volner Naihan Li's "I Am A Monument," on display at Beijing's Gallery ALL.


The tent itself was packed with familiar faces and familiar furniture, from Studio Job's ornately eccentric work for Carpenter Workshop Gallery's booth to a full suite of Jean Prouvé student-housing furniture exhibited by Galerie Patrick Seguin. But Design Miami's status as a major theater in the global design drama seemed cemented by the piece displayed by Beijing's Gallery ALL—some will recognize Chinese designer Naihan Li's "I Am A Monument", last seen while still in the workshop in her Caochangdi studio during Beijing Design Week. The full-size armoire based on OMA's iconic CCTV Building was chosen by the designer, she said, because the building's Möbius-strip configuration put her in mind "of getting dressed and undressed, the way it happens in a loop." Apparently, the design world works the same way.

Studio Job lamp at the Carpenter Workshop Gallery.
Ian Volner Studio Job lamp at the Carpenter Workshop Gallery.


A Jean Prouvé-designed, student-housing furniture suite, exhibited by Galerie Patrick Seguin.
Ian Volner A Jean Prouvé-designed, student-housing furniture suite, exhibited by Galerie Patrick Seguin.