Miami Beach is high up on the list of the most desirable real estate spots in the world. A sun-drenched lagoon, the Beach is a perpetual paradise populated with gleaming buildings and polished people. But despite being so sought-after, crumbling land parcels exist in nooks up and down this sliver strip of an island. Most are earmarked by property tycoons and hotel chains that are moving in to spruce up and streamline the Beach streetscape.
The US$1 billion Faena District is perhaps the most interesting part of the Miami Beach transmogrification: six blocks starting from Collins Avenue and ending by Indian Creek are under redevelopment by Argentine property developer Alan Faena.
He has a roster of architects—Foster & Partners, Rem Koolhaas, Brandon Haw and William Sofield—as well as filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and his costume designer wife, Catherine Martin—on board to execute his plan to bring some Argentinian flair to Florida. “The southern vision is my way of being. It’s my childhood,” says Alan. “It’s the tango and bossanova. It’s fire, long skies, great culture. It’s a way to be.”
As America’s pre-eminent Latin American city, Miami makes sense as a place for southern culture to flourish. The city has several well-established cultural institutions that showcase Latin American art, as well as last week’s Art Basel Miami Beach fair, which puts both local, Latin American and international talent on show.
But Miami has long lacked a cultural centre locals can rally around. With Faena’s new development that could change: within the Faena District, Rem Koolhaas/OMA-designed cultural space Faena Forum will take centre stage as a place where art, science, technology, politics and urbanism are subjects both on display and under discussion through a series of public debates, exhibitions and performances.
With Ximena Caminos, the former curator of the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires, as well as Faena’s life and work partner, at the helm, Faena Forum hopes to raise Miami’s cultural bar significantly, and permanently.
“We’re bringing in cinema, literature, fashion. We’re creating a multi-functional space for new minds in culture, art, dancing. We’re creating a story at the Forum”, Alan says.
Starting out in fashion, Alan Faena sold his footwear brand Via Vai in the 90s, and moved into property development. Together with the Ukrainian industrialist Len Blavatnik, who also owns the six blocks on Miami Beach (and happens to be Britain’s richest man), he redeveloped the abandoned docklands district Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires and transformed it into the city’s swankiest neighbourhood.
Alan says his vision is about transforming overlooked locations into something extraordinary. “In Buenos Aires we brought creation to a part of the city that was abandoned. It was without food, culture, music, lighting. For me, it’s about finding a space from where I can change a city. That’s what we’re doing here on Miami Beach. We’re making this place into something the local community can feel proud of.”
Once construction is fully completed in spring next year, the Faena District will have on offer everything from Parisian cabaret shows to smokey outdoor Argentinian barbecues at restaurant Los Fuegos; high-end shopping at the OMA designed Bazaar and luxury suites at the Faena Hotel; and private ocean-view residences at Faena House. (The 47 apartments at Faena House are already sold out – the penthouse went for a record $US60m in September 2015). There are also two towers of residential condos, Faena Versailles, and a beach-front house, Casa Claridges.
The Faena Hotel, which Baz Luhrmann designed the interiors of, sits on the site of the Saxony Hotel, Miami’s first luxury hotel (which was built in 1948), opened during Art Basel Miami Beach last week. Intricate floor-to-ceiling murals depicting tropical scenery by Argentine painter Juan Gatti, and a forest of gold-leafed columns, greet guests as they enter the hotel lobby.
Elaborate furniture such as red leather sofas or zebra-patterned armchairs are dotted throughout the property. There are two Damien Hirst pieces – the Golden Myth unicorn is the centrepiece at restaurant Pao (chef Paul Qui’s first outside Austin, Texas) and Gone but not Forgotten is a gilded mammoth skeleton in a steel-and-glass vitrine standing in the garden.
Though all this opulence is dazzling, it’s a simple design device that puts a new spin on the Faena Hotel: connecting the outdoors with the indoors. Despite Florida’s near perfect climate, it can be surprisingly difficult to find hotels and restaurants that make the best use of the outdoors. Local design thinking has long been overshadowed by the obsession to shut out the heat and crank up the air-conditioning indoors.
In Faena’s world you experience the opposite. Outdoor spaces are shaded and cool in the ocean breeze. Nature and the sea link with the property in one sweep through open veranda doors and from curved balconies. It’s when you stand here, looking out over Miami Beach’s seductively turquoise waters that Faena’s vision really sinks into its uncomplicated and elemental state. He says: “I’ve created the possibility to live on the beach, just like I do at home.”