While developer Craig Robins—whose company, Dacra Development, revitalized the Miami Design District a few blocks away from the duplex—may not share the same idealistic goals as the Bauhaus academy, he sees the reinterpreted court house concept as a template for affordable, yet high-design, housing. Riley, who undertook the project before leaving his MoMA job, says, “If a museum curator can afford it, it's definitely middle class.”
With 1,600 square feet of interior living space, each unit in the duplex cost roughly $400,000. Not exactly the housing for the masses that Hannes Meyer had in mind when he lashed out at Mies, but still of wide market interest for Robins, who quickly sold the second unit to two Brooklyn-based art dealers.
“It is a great example of where simplicity and extraordinary design produce something that offers an extremely high-quality lifestyle without an exorbitant cost,” the developer says. Indeed, the house affords privacy, light, and tranquility on a small, cramped lot in what was until recently a not particularly desirable area of Miami.
“You retain those things that are usually associated with houses that are larger and more extravagant,” says Riley, adding that the duplex is already sparking considerable interest. “People walk in off the street and call us to ask, ‘How much are these?'”
Some of the most lavish elements of Mies' residential designs are absent: “Travertine floors, onyx partitions, and the like are not what we wanted to do,” Riley says. He opted for polished concrete floors, thin steel pillars, and 9-foot ceilings with an abundance of glass and white plaster walls.
Luxury has not been entirely foresworn, however. The low-slung Bulthaup kitchen looks, Riley says, “like Donald Judd had imagined it.” The furniture is by a range of designers from Eero Saarinen to Philippe Starck. “It all had to look beautiful from the bottom because once you're in the pool, you see it,” says Riley.
Oddly for the home of a museum director, the walls are bare of art, save for two partitions covered with collages meant to signal Mies' desire for an integration of art and architecture. A wall overlooking the central courtyard and pool has been left blank for the projection of varied images at parties or to serve as a screen for outdoor film viewing on balmy nights.
Robins wants to build entire enclaves of these courtyard houses, but not in southern Florida, where real estate price hikes have made land expensive, spurring high-rise construction.
“We thought this was a sketchy neighborhood,” Riley says, recalling when he and Bennett first planned the house three years ago. Now, a modest 1920s bungalow across the street is on the market for $1 million.
So instead of Miami, Robins is considering Miesian enclaves for Beijing, Moscow, and Buenos Aires. If courtyard houses were to line both sides of streets in those cities, Riley says with evident delight, “it becomes a neighborhood of like-minded people who want to live in a house like this and have an interest in not just what is behind the walls, but the public spaces as well.”