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Frank Gehry vs Miami Beach

Ines Hegedus-Garcia
ines@miamism.com

My point of view may be a bit skewed for some of you but I'm throwing it out there anyways.  Miami and Miami Beach, for the most part, are devoid of good architecture.  Yes you heard right - we have some fun Arquitectonica buildings (which many will question their worth) and lately some known architects have been invited into the mix. 

We really need to look around our city and see that we really don't even have an adequate "arts in public places" program (the Brittos ARE really getting to me by now), and the little quality architecture we have is because certain big names in architecture have come in to leave their mark.

Many of my University of Miami architecture professors would be agitated at me by now telling me how these projects are only objects in the landscape and don't do anything for the context of our city.  But lets face it - urban sprawl, poorly planned communities with unsatisfactory public transportation leaves us only with the hope of seeing some quality projects scattered around....Frank Gehry's concert hall for the New World Symphony in Miami Beach being one of them.

Let me put you up to date.  Gehry would have probably never even bid for the project but as the Miami Herald puts it,

Out of loyalty to an old friend, (symphony founder and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas), the most sought-after architect on the globe agreed to design an ambitious Miami Beach campus for the New World Symphony -- a $154 million interactive concert hall, a 2 ½-acre companion park, and, at the city of Miami Beach's insistence, a parking garage. Construction on the centerpiece, Gehry's concert hall, is under way, on time and on budget. But the rest of the grand vision is coming apart amid a fee dispute, political hand-wringing, and what some say is the architect's obstinacy and others the city's bush-league treatment of a genius. It all boils down to this: Frank Gehry doesn't work cheap. And the city, balking at Gehry's fee for the park blueprint and facing a $2 million overrun on the garage, asked the New World Symphony to get him to reduce his fee or replace him with a less-costly designer for the green space -- in essence, to have the world's most famous architect fired. And a fed-up Gehry's response: Fine by me.

So of course this has ruffled the feathers of many locals like Tony Garcia from Transit Miami who said in an article today (who by the way, I highly respect):

Architects are such babies....The city can improve the park over time, and not waste so much money on architects who say things like: "Doing a parking garage in Miami is not something I should be spending time on. I did it out of respect for [Tilson Thomas]." Dude, we don’t need you to do us any favors. Thanks.

So here's the thing - yes most architects have egos bigger than there is room for - yes Gehry may be a bit obstinate - but the truth is that we are lucky to have him and I can't wait for that space to be finished and designed exactly how he envisioned it without cutting corners. 

Budgets had been discussed, visions had been planned and designed, so let's put mediocrity aside.  We don't want another half-ass park in Miami. I was walking through the land that will be the park this past weekend imagining the grand space and got chills.  I even took a photo of the construction with my iPhone and posted it at MiamismPix.com with the idea of documenting the Gehryfication of the structure. 

I hope the politics can be worked out and Miami Beach doesn't make a mistake they will regret.

frank gehry in miami beach

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 6th May, 2009

Mark - I so appreciate your opinion and have to confess that I laughed with your "microwave comment" - my first thoughts when I heard Gehry was the whole wind-load calculations and "minimums" being met. I do have to say that as I drive by the building and see the amount of steel and concrete being used, it makes me feel a little better.

Being an architect and my dad an engineer - we often discuss how a good engineer's role is to make an architect's wild dreams a reality. Let's see in a few years where Gehry's building stands.

Mark 6th May, 2009

Enough has been written about attaching "star" architects to projects that I need not add anything further in that regard, other than to say, sometimes Mr. Gehry's brilliance is a little --shall we say-- TOO brilliant. Case in point, construction on above Disney Concert Hall was nearing completeion when I had cause to be in LA, and while crossing First Street was hit by a momentary flash of light so bright it could have blinded a pilot. Mentioning it to my father, a retired engineer, he said umpteen tests should have been done on the innovative aluminum-clad surface of the building. As it turns out, they weren't, and the finished project resulted in microwaving the buildings facing it. Despite Gehry's denial anything was wrong, it was discovered that indeed the design wasn't as completely thought out as Gehry would have had everyone believe; fortunately a minor buffing of the surface stopped the mirrored glare from frying the neighbors (shades of Frank Lloyd Wright and his unreinforced concrete!). Given the paucity of experience Gehry has with hurricane strength winds, coupled with the South Florida Bulding Associations's post-andrew rep, and I shudder to think of the probable consequences.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Thanks for the great discussion everyone - that's exactly what I was hoping for. In the end - I only hope that they don't end up spending $10 million for a mediocre park designed by someone else.....anything is possible in Miami.

Wouldn't it be great if the UM School of Architecture would jump in (their urban planning masters studio) and come up with some solutions for the city and for Gehry to review?

Maria de los Angeles 22nd April, 2009

Great post, Ines! I'm so glad you've created awareness about it. I used to work for New World Symphony and I hope it all works out as originally planned. It should be an incredible complex not only for what they are doing with technology and music, but also a major landmark for all to enjoy.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Hey Maria - anytime there's architecture involved....you better believe I'll jump in....I hope your leg heals quickly btw!

Fernando Garcia 23rd April, 2009

Very good point in Tony's comment. From the Medieval cathedrals and castles, through the Renaissance and Baroque Palaces, to the Industrial Eiffel Tower, architectural landmarks capture the spirit of a place in one time.

Is this the best time to spend a bundle in a parking garage in Miami?

Congratulations Inez for a great post.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 23rd April, 2009

Gracias Fernando ;)

Tony Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Hey, at least we get a Gehry designed building, right? That's something to be positive about. Should he have designed a parking garage in the first place - no (not to mention I'm against building parking garages anyway, but that is an entirely different conversation). At this point we're talking triage...what should happen next? Get local urban planners/landscape architects to plan the park and people will use it. I promise. The location is tough, but it is a block away from Lincoln Road, and I don't think it will take much to make this an active space.

Fernando - I agree! We need landmarks (especially in this town).

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Ritch - so you need less naïveté and I need less cynicism - we cobine Ritcnes together and we are just PERFECT!! btw, ironically enough, I started re-reading The Fountainhead last week after my photographer mentioned it to me. Will let you know if it helps with my the"c" problem :D

Tony Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Thanks for the shout out Ines. I think you know where I'm coming from with this. I don't hate Gehry, nor do I love him. HE'S JUST AN ARCHITECT! My frustration is more about the architectural profession at large and what place architects inhabit in this new strange world that is developing.

I agree with Rich - a small local firm would be much more sensitive to the budget and local context.

When we talk about these important sculptural buildings there is something to remember: every building can't be a unique snowflake. Most buildings in the city need to fade into the background and let the urbanism do most of the work (creating active streetfronts, providing density, walkability). As far as architecture goes, the architect has a responsibility to make sure these things work before celebrating their own artistic vision.

The city can't be made of a bunch of unique monuments. Imagine a city of buildings that all look similar to the Guggenheim (the original by FLW). It would be a disaster.
I think Gehry's building might shine brighter if the urbanism around the site (especially the park) is not overly designed - but functional. Let the building do most of the heavy lifting.
As for the park, provide lighting, seating, pretty landscaping, and call it a day. Look at the most successful urban parks and they are not filled with bells and whistles. The urbanism around the park makes the park work. Lets not reinvent the wheel here (and especially not for $10 million).

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Hey Tony,
I totally get where you are going, but if Miami Beach didn't want an architect with total disregard for context and who only designs sculptural spaces, then they should have not hired Gehry. I'm just tired of unfinished projects in Miami and things being cut half-way because of re-distribution of funds and budgets. They should have let a local do the parking lot and Gehry the park.

You have to admit that the context is not easy, it's the back of the Lincoln Road storefronts with an ugly "alley" feel to it. I don't think the space calls for the "common park" either - it would be great if a design charrette would take place and local talent throws their 2-cents in - but politics would get the best of the end result IMHO.

Fernando Garcia 22nd April, 2009

A city built by Gehry sounds like a real nightmare. Or Gaudi too... Imagine a Paris full of Eiffel towers.

They should have zoning laws prohibiting two of these within a radius of, say, 100 miles. But still, cities are made of fabric as well as a few "jewels" here and there. Can you imagine someone wearing just jewels from head to toe?

Miami would probably benefit from another architectural landmark.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 21st April, 2009

I can assure you that no good architect would ever erect a mediocre project or would have a "C" bag - they are good because they understand the significance of permanence and how architecture impacts our cities. The scraps come from budget cuts and bad decisions during construction (as is happening now with the Gehry project). And although everyone understands budget constraints, they are applied in the wrong facet of these mega projects.

Pro V Nature Fusion.....as long as you promise not to sniff my hair - LOL

Adrian Salgado 21st April, 2009

I don't think it's a coincidence that we get the scraps.

I think the red tape, the lack of education (and by that I don't necessarily mean a college degree)of those sitting on the dais (not saying this is the case in Miami Beach - don't know enough about them), and the lack of general interest from the public allow the well-known architects to pretty much say "Let's just do them a favor and throw them (Miami) something out of our 'C' bag, attach our name to it, and just get paid already. They'll (collectively) never know the difference".

I think that's unfortunate.

Visiting a world-class city like Chicago, where it seems like every single building, park, and public space was designed with a specific purpose (including the Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion), makes one realize that architecture (nicely-designed architecture, that is) affects our lives in a positive way. It's not an intangible asset anymore. Calatrava's Spire in Chicago sells (or was selling) for $1,000/SF. That's tangible.

Go with the Pro V Nature Fusion. Although I hear that they're scents are not what they used to be. It seems like they changed their formula. Oh well.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Ritch - you know I love you and everything about you and I totally see where you are coming from. My fear is that I've seen what Miami does when they start cutting corners - they end up hiring the first Bermello or Spillis Candela and it becomes a game of politics instead of looking for real solutions and talent that can unravel the real issues behind the park and the needs for that public space.

I'm not a fan of Gehry either, but I know what space becomes when he puts his hands in it - as Fernando states above with Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. And although I'm no fan of Gehry, I'm less of a fan of politics and I doubt Miami Beach's intentions. It's not that they don't have the money, is that now they are rethinking the distribution of those funds and the validity of spending the money on a public park.

The perfect scenario is what you mention, in a perfect world where only drag queens and popstars exist....let's keep an eye and see what happens.

Ritch Holben 22nd April, 2009

HI Ines,
I couldnt agree with you more. I completely suffer from a naivete when it comes to politicians and their motivations behind their decisions. (Even after 8 years of Bush, I still can smile in the morning!) Ive worked on projects in New Yorks Central Park, did the WTC competition, worked on revitalizing downtown Seattle, and have seen politicians do terrible things when it comes to urban planning, making decisions contrary to the wishes of those that they supposedly serve. Im guilty of still living with a utopian cloud where our leaders serve their constituency well, and where even architects have a role in leading, or at least facilitating, the advancement of our society. Guilty. Damn you, Ayn Rand! (lol)
(maybe the Fountainhead was way too much for a 9th grader to read).

I do hope that this can all be resolved to make South Beach, and greater Miami, proud of the decisions it makes.

and thank you, Ines, for opening up this dialog. ITs a great forum for people to express their ideas, and talk about the important stuff!

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 21st April, 2009

Adrian, not many people are fans of DeConstructivism - it's difficult to understand it's concept and the fact that form doesn't have anything to do with function - but I do believe Gehry has proven himself time and time again.

I do think you have a point about "every architect gives Miami his scraps) and it would be great to know if it's because of the same problem that Gehry is having.....change of budgeting plans at the last minute when it counts. I just wish the parking lot would have been given to one of our locals and would have let Gehry do the concert hall and park without interfering.

I too had hopes that Miami Beach would get it right - but let's be honest, look at the Bermello night mare on Washington and 5th - I still can't believe that building was allowed (I still get nauseous every time I go by it). - so no....Miami Beach does not always get it right.

Thanks for your great input. (I'm on my way to buy some Pantene btw)

Fernando Garcia 22nd April, 2009

Gaudi got similar attacks in 1900 Barcelona blogs. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum has done for Bilbao more than any smart architectural reviewer.
Miami has some great architecture. Will it stay there?
Good luck, Miami!

Ritch Holben 22nd April, 2009

Hi Ines,
I just love to read the passion in your words when it comes to this project. As a newbie to Miami, I cannot comment on the state of local politics or the history of WHY the architectural merit of Miami's buildings isn't exactly worthy of its location and cosmopolitan nature. However, there are issues you bring up that do bother me, and thought I would throw them out there for consumption.
You know that I'm not really a Gehry fan. I feel he is more of an ego maniacal sculptor than an architect. I don't think he gives a damn about context or social fabric. That being said, my first issue is the inference that the fulfillment of the "vision" of a starchitect relies on a hands-off approach from the outside world. Look at the Getty Center. If the client hadnt insisted on the use of travertine as a cladding material, which forced Meier outside of his comfortable white box, the complex wouldnt have the complexity, tension, and strength that it does. Meier rose to the challenge and became a better architect for it. Also, part of the projects success comes from the fact that the garden designer, Robert Irwin, took such a different approach to the grounds surrounding Meiers megastructures. His gardens are fluid, personal, human-scaled, tactile, dynamic. They set up a dialog with the buildings that, again, brightens the chorus that is the Getty.

If Gehry really isn't invested in seeing his "vision" for the park thru to fruition, and willing to take a bit of a paycut to do it, then maybe it would be better designed by someone who will actually use it beyond the initial ribbon-cutting. I feel that, in this economic climate, it may be the duty of the elected officials to at least ask if there is a chance to save some tax dollars wherever they can. If that could help with shrinking education budgets, or help the homeless, isn't it their civic duty? And let's face it, Gehry could afford to miss a meal or two.
Maybe Miami's tolerance for divas should be restricted to drag queens and popstars.

By the green dictum of Think Globally, Act Locally, maybe those in charge should consider holding a competition for the park design. I hear that local talent has some time on their hands, and, perhaps, out of that constraint, a better design will emerge. I think it belies a certain insecurity when a community feels that it must reach outside of itself to achieve its goals. The days of designer labels is over. At least for now. So why not tell this divatect and his 19% fees to take a hike?

Kevin 20th April, 2009

I hate to say it...but Great post! Probably one of your most interesting yet! Seriously...just sayin'!

Remember what @ardelld said way back when! Refreshing!

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 20th April, 2009

Thank you Kevin - or is it thank you? :D

Adrian Salgado 21st April, 2009

I'm not a huge fan of Gehry's designs and yes, starchitects are bigger divas than Elton John.

However, I totally agree with you. A public space with his vision and execution, coupled with the 1111 Lincoln Road project designed by Herzog & de Meuron (not one of their most original designs either - it seems like every starchitect gives Miami his scraps) is something that can take Lincoln Road, arguably the best public space in South Florida - even with the Guesses, Britto Centrals, and Pottery Barns dominating the scene - to the next level of placemaking (at least locally) forever.

What a great use of space too. They just took 2 huge surface parking lots fronting a visible corner, fronted by a beautiful theater (Jackie Gleason, please don't call it The Fillmore), city hall, and the convention center on the other side and turned them into a sight that will draw eyes, people, experiences, emotions, moments, and ______ together.

If I had to wager on any municipal government getting it right, I would have to put my money on the City of Miami Beach. They're one of the few that figured out and more importantly, chose to understand, how architecture (read Art Deco) can be used as a tool of economic development. And got it right.

I wish/hope that they'd swallow some pride (it is "Frank Gehry" after all), see things from a MACRO perspective, and realize the potential benefits that this poses for EVERYONE.

On another note, I look forward to a renaissance in Miami Beach. The "A" List scene is so 1995. Paying $16 for a drink and $58 for Kobe Sliders stopped being cool a very long time ago.

Ines Hegedus-Garcia 21st April, 2009

jeff - I can thank my Mac for that? :) (I wonder who pushed me into finally making the switch?)

Jeff Turner 21st April, 2009

I have absolutely nothing of value to add to this conversation. I just wanted to say that your posts sure do look pretty. Great graphics and placement.

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