Concrete culture adds to Miami’s new Faena District

Not so long ago, Mid-Beach was a boring eight-block section of Miami Beach that was as faded as an urban landscape that few noticed the beautiful, uninhabited stretch of sand that beckoned behind the dull buildings along main Collins Avenue. Then, late last year, with the debuts of the flamboyant, glamorous Faena Hotel (W * 202) in a restored 1940s resort tower and the Faena House, a billowing, 18-story skyscraper owned by Foster + Partners, Mid – Suddenly, the beach was on every globetrotter’s radar.

When Faena’s new three-story complex, with cultural, retail and park components designed by OMA, opens across the street on November 27, the $ 1.2 billion neighborhood reinvention will be deemed complete (Another element, Faena Mar, a Brandon Haw residential tower, will be added in 2017).

Alan Faena, the Argentine who envisioned the project and put “all his heart and strength” into it, predicts it will spark “a new renaissance” in Miami Beach and beyond and create a vibrant new place for North to interact – and South America will offer.

The Faena Forum, a cultural center, has a facade made of cast concrete and glass that mimics the shapes of tropical foliage

It may sound like a marketing bombast, but Faena’s prophecies usually come true. Faena, a former fashion entrepreneur who turned real estate impresario and dresses like a tropical evangelist in white, did his first revitalization miracle in the early naughties in the abandoned docklands of Puerto Madero in his hometown of Buenos Aires. With an exciting portion of urbanity and culture in the form of a 200 million dollar program – including an apartment block designed by Foster + Partners and a conversion of a former grain silo into a luxury hotel with the most modern quality Art Center (W * 75) designed by Philippe Starck, all of them Funded by Faena’s business partner, Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik – this no man’s land turned into one of the most fashionable and expensive neighborhoods in the city.

The main architect on Faena’s latest foray into Miami – consisting of the Faena Forum, Faena Bazaar, and Faena Park – is Shohei Shigematsu, the OMA partner who runs the New York office. An early concern of the master plan was to visually span Collins Avenue so that the center merges with the hotel and the skyscraper across the street in a coherent urban landscape. Working closely with Faena, Shigematsu and his team designed a series of green public spaces to create a single, uniform topography.

At the center, and indeed the dynamic core of the Faena District as marked, is the Forum, a hybrid structure for the presentation of exhibitions, all kinds of performances, as well as culinary events, lectures and debates, as well as conferences and corporate events. Shigematsu calls it “a culture machine”. Faena believes it will uplift everyone. His wife, Ximena Caminos, an Argentine curator and manager of the Faena Art Center in Buenos Aires, will oversee the programming of the forum with advice from international consultants.

The forum consists of two connected volumes, a cube and a cylinder. The bazaar and parking lot are on the left, while on the other side of Collins Avenue are Foster + Partners Faena House (right) and Faena Versailles Classic (left).

Because the forum is on a small, wedge-shaped site, the architects felt that if they were to put all the activities together in a single volume, the building would be awkward and out of proportion to the neighbors in the living area. As a more elegant solution, they designed the 42,565-square-foot system instead as a coherent cylinder and cube made of cast concrete and glazing. In addition to having two volumes better respecting the neighborhood – with the cylinder reflecting Miami Beach’s many Streamline buildings – and providing more public space in the area where they meet, it hides a central loading dock and access to underground parking . The forum’s irregularly curved concrete and glass facade further fills the area by mimicking the contours of tropical leaves while, perhaps more critically, fulfilling hurricane guidelines. Since intense sun and sudden downpours are constants in Miami, the cylinder booms over Collins Avenue Square provide shade and protection at the entrance, and the Cube provides a secondary entrance on Bayside Square where a new marina can be added in the future with it the locals can arrive by boat.

As befits Faena’s great cultural ambitions, the cylinder is inspired by the Roman Pantheon and New York’s Guggenheim Museum and, like these, has a soaring amphitheater with an ocular in the dome. The cylinder and the cube are connected on the third level in a spacious, 8,500 square meter assembly hall. This can be divided into two contrasting event spaces (the cube features a black box theater) or with one space serving as symbiotic support for an event in the other.

On the block next to the forum, the architects converted the former Atlantic Beach Hotel into a bazaar, which promises a specially curated retail experience in the style of London Dover Street, but with a distinct Latin accent. Due to local conservation rules, the architects were limited to how much they could alter the original structure. However, they have added a second entry on the south facade of the building to better connect it with the forum, and freshly clad the courtyard with a white brise soleil that creates a dramatic counterpoint to the vermilion passageways that line the upper levels of the interior limit. On the roof there is a new glazed multipurpose room with a sea view.

The facade of the bazaar building with its original parasols remained largely unchanged

Faena Park, a new park structure designed by OMA, adjoins the bazaar. Innovative parking is a hallmark of Miami – where public transportation is scarce and parking is a precious commodity – and this building promises a new level of sophistication. The building consists of precast concrete parts with sloping perforations for adequate air circulation and colorful views of the cars stacked in it. It will have two glass elevators, one for cars and one for valet parking.

There are additional underground parking spaces under all three structures. This commitment to sufficient parking shows how meticulously Faena and OMA have responded to the needs of the local population. Shigematsu notes that this was an expensive gesture, largely due to the technical issues involved in building tremie panels (submerging concrete), a requirement due to the barrier island’s porous limestone, rising sea levels, and high groundwater levels. In fact, Miami Beach’s struggle with the flood of its streets has resulted in the company embarking on a $ 400 million electronic pump project.

Faena envisions that his lovingly designed district “will be of great value to Miami in a hundred years.” For this to be possible, another visionary has to come up with a sophisticated design solution for the dangerously invading waters. Otherwise, in a century when current predictions become a reality, Faena district could be another city of beauty and culture lost to the sea.

As originally featured in the December 2016 issue of Wallpaper * (W * 213)

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