Critic Alastair Gordon diagnoses Miami with a case of “facade-ism”

Architecture East Facades+ News Urbanism
Pérez Art Museum Miami. (Flickr / Phillip Pessar)

Pérez Art Museum Miami. (Flickr / Phillip Pessar)

Miami is a place of sunshine and gloss, bronzed bodies and signature cocktails. But for architecture critic and author Alastair Gordon, the underlying dynamics—including the harsh realities of income inequality and rising sea levels—are what make the city truly interesting.

These dynamics are further obscured by the recent construction boom. “There are these crazy investments from overseas,” said Gordon. “A lot is coming from South America, but also Europe, China, and Russia. That’s fascinating, but it’s completely in denial of what else is happening in Miami.”

Architecture can play a role in bridging the gap between the real and the ideal, said Gordon, pointing to Herzog & de Meuron‘s Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) as a prime example. Gordon will be on site at the museum on Friday, September 11, leading a tour of the Faena District, Miami Beach, and the Design District on the second day of the Facades+ Miami conference. “PAMM is great architecture and a great museum, but it’s also a great piece of urbanism,” said Gordon. “It shows you what the rest of the city could be” through its relationship to a proposed bike bath and water taxi system. “It suggests a whole new paradigm not just for how a museum operates, but for the city,” concluded Gordon.

Rendering of the Norman Foster-designed Faena House. (Benchmark Realty / Flickr)

Rendering of the Norman Foster-designed Faena House. (Benchmark Realty / Flickr)

On Thursday, September 10, Gordon will moderate a panel discussion on “Miami: Buoyant City” as part of the Facades+ Miami symposium. Panelists include Zaha Hadid Architects‘ Chris Lépine, Ximena Caminos of the Faena Group, and Glavovic Studio‘s Margi Nothard. The three speakers each represent a different approach to facades, said Gordon.

Zaha Hadid’s 1000 Museum is more about “the building as pure facade, very high end,” he said. “That building, more than any of them, is really state of the art in terms of structural integrity.” Then there’s the Faena District, which Gordon characterized as a “compromise, trying to do architecture with community involvement.” Caminos, he explained “is the brains behind the cultural immersion they do. It’s not just fancy architects parachuting into Miami. They really live here, they’re extremely involved in community affairs.” As for Nothard, Gordon says he is “a fan” of her work. “She has done extraordinary things with building affordable housing and senior housing on a level you can’t believe.”

Gordon finds the topic of facades especially fitting for Miami. “It’s always been a city of facade-ism,” he said. “It’s so much about appearance; people don’t want to know what’s going on behind the facade.” But as the work of his co-panelists demonstrates, Miami’s reputation for superficiality may be on the brink of a transformation, said Gordon. “In that way the city’s changing in a really good way.”

To hear more from Gordon and his co-panelists, and to sign up for an exclusive field trip to the Faena District, Miami Beach, and the Design District, visit the Facades+ Miami website.

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