The doorbell rings often at Terence Riley's sleek new Miami home. Passersby stop to inquire if Riley, formerly the chief curator of architecture and design at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), can create a similar residence for them, while architecture students drop by unannounced to cajole the owner for a peek inside. “OK, I'll give you two minutes,” he usually tells the students.

Having traded in his post at MoMA a little over a year ago for the directorship of the Miami Art Museum, Riley is pressed for time, busily overseeing that institution's expansion and construction of a new building by Herzog & de Meuron. But Riley apparently thrives on creating new homes for institutions and for himself. After overseeing MoMA's transition into its latest physical incarnation by Yoshio Taniguchi, he worked with his partner, architect John Bennett, to design the Miami dwelling that they now share.

  • Terence Riley, director of the Miami Art Museum, sees worldwide applications for Mies' court house concept.
    Terence Riley, director of the Miami Art Museum, sees worldwide applications for Mies' court house concept.
  • John Bennett, Riley's partner, was a co-designer of the spectacular Tower of Lights installation at the World Trade Center site.

    Credit: Alex Ely

    John Bennett, Riley's partner, was a co-designer of the spectacular Tower of Lights installation at the World Trade Center site.

The house is half of a duplex that Riley and Bennett intend as a prototype for a leading Miami developer to replicate elsewhere and is based on a design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that the two architects explored as part of their research for the 2001 Mies retrospective at MoMA. Along with Mies' more celebrated designs, like the Villa Tugendhat and the Barcelona Pavilion, the exhibition included a group of so-called court houses with interior walled gardens, drawn up in 1931 soon after Mies became director of the Bauhaus. Riley believes that Mies created the low-cost court house design in response to criticism from his left-wing Bauhaus predecessor Hannes Meyer that he was overly focused on fashioning luxurious homes for the wealthy.

The court house designs were never realized in Germany, but after the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus and Mies came to the United States, several of his followers built Miesian courtyard houses, including Philip Johnson, who built one in Cambridge, Mass., in 1942.

In Miami, Riley has taken a Weimar-era experiment and given it a tropical twist worthy of David Hockney, centering his duo of houses on a pair of narrow lap pools. On one side of each pool is the living room and kitchen; on the other are two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Moving between these areas, which are enclosed on each side by tall sliding glass doors, requires crossing a concrete bridge spanning the water. Walled gardens, filled with Florida ferns and bromeliads, flank the front and back.

On a recent visit to the house, Riley's swimsuited younger brother lounged poolside in the warm winter sun. In South Florida's temperate climate, traversing the open-air courtyard bisecting the bedrooms and living area is generally unproblematic, though periodic rain and hurricanes mean sometimes getting buffeted by the elements.

Riley and Bennett had originally wanted the perimeter walls to fill the lot line, but this went against a local zoning code and prompted neighborhood opposition. At a public hearing by a local planning commission, Riley defended the concept and was ultimately able to get it built with only a small setback from the street. The New York firm K/R Architects, which Riley founded in the 1980s with John Keenen, acted as project architect.