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In delirious Miami, where the car is an object of veneration and the ordinary parking garage has been turned into a temple of design, this latest one may take the architectural cake.
Forget the discreet mesh screens or the shy, glowing neon curtains that barely manage to conceal some other garages.
The new, block-long Museum Garage in Miami’s reborn Design District slated to open Sunday is nothing less than a hallucinatory visual carnival — five wildly disparate facades yoked together in a surreal architectural collage.
At one end, a hot pink vertical warren of stairs and terraces melts around a corner into a jigsaw puzzle of giant, colorful blobs, next to an exuberant black-and-white mix of rococo fragments and Japanese anime, a gravity-defying logjam of cars turned sideways and, finally, a wall made of orange- and white-striped road-construction barricades (think Bob’s Barricades) punctuated by protruding concrete planters.
And inside? Seven stories of clean, functional space for 800 cars.
Even before it was finished, the garage was one of Miami’s most instantly Instagrammable buildings. Design District patrons may be forgiven for wondering what they put in the water fountain at nearby retailer Rag & Bone.
“But what is it?” asked one puzzled passerby of another on a recent evening as he stopped to gape at the arresting spectacle, each facade distinctly illuminated from within.
“I describe it as a bucket of cold water,” said architect Terence Riley, who “curated” the garage facade designs for Design District partners DACRA and LVMH.
This overt act of architectural one-upmanship is the brainchild of DACRA’s Craig Robins, who has led the Design District’s transformation into an ultra-luxe urban shopping district, and Riley, former director of what’s now the Perez Art Museum Miami.
The garage exterior is the fruit of an unusual collaboration among Riley and five other artists and architects. At first, each worked on a separate section virtually blindly — that is, without a clue as to what the next designer was drawing up.
The idea, Riley and Robins said, was to avoid the usual pitfalls associated with efforts to decorously disguise big parking garages, a necessary evil in a city with severely limited public transit.
Screens and other treatments, no matter how artful, can’t really conceal the bulk of a garage and are visually monotonous, Riley said. After dark, the illuminated guts of the garage and the parked cars can leak through the screening, making for an unappealing sight. Gluing on fake fronts to make it look like row houses or an office building is no better, he said.
Unlike Herzog and de Meuron’s famous 1111 Lincoln Road garage in Miami Beach, where the exposed, Origami-like skeleton of the building is the architectural showstopper, or Arquitectonica’s Ballet Valet Garage, which sprouts greenery much like a Chia pet, DACRA’s is standard garage on the inside, phantasmagoria on the outside.
It’s not DACRA’s first stand-alone, above-ground garage. Its City View garage features screen-like architectural facades by firms Leong Leong and Iwamoto Scott, with a photo mural by leading conceptual artist John Baldessari. That garage sits at the edge of the district facing Interstate 195.
But the new garage occupies a block of Northeast 41st Street at the heart of the district. It faces the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, which has its own distinct, faceted metallic front. Next to that is the museum housing the private De la Cruz Collection.
Confronted with a massive garage plumb in the middle of a district designed to foster pedestrian life, Riley decided to create a spectacle. (The garage will be lined at street level with shops and restaurants, while the rear facade overlooking Northeast 40th Street is blank because future development will rise in a now-vacant lot behind it.)
He divvied up the garage frontage into distinct sections to break up its bulk, and then allowed carefully selected artists and architects free reign. Riley assigned one section to himself.
“We’re not trying to pretend the garage is small. We’re trying to make it visually interesting,” Riley said. “The thing I didn’t want it to be was a conscious strategy to make the building look like something it isn’t.”
The approach was inspired by an old Surrealist game called Exquisite Corpse, Riley said. In the game, one artist draws a head on a blank piece of paper, folds it over to conceal the drawing and passes the sheet on to the next artist, who then draws the torso without seeing the head, and so on until the body is finished head-to-toe.
After the initial blind phase, Riley narrowed multiple concepts down to five and moved them around. Then designers started refining, often taking cues from adjoining facade designs and blending them together at the edges.
“When we saw it, it was really exciting,” said Amale Andraos, co-principal of WORK.arc in New York and dean of Columbia University’s graduate school of architecture. “We started to cross-reference, to blur the boundaries. We started to break the rules.”
When Riley unveiled the designs, said artist Nicolas Buffe, “it was really a fantastic surprise for me.”
Each of the facades boasts its own particular lighting design by Speirs + Major. The firm has lit the Millennium Dome and the pickle-shaped Gherkin office tower in its hometown of London. The Museum Garage was designed and engineered by the Miami office of Tim Haahs.
The facades, in order from east to west, are:
* Ant Farm, by architects WORKac (principals Dan Wood and Amale Andraos), NewYork.
Because each of the facades is four feet deep, Wood and Andraos had plenty of space to play with, and play they did. Like the old-fashioned ant farm that exposes the workings of an insect colony, or a Chutes and Ladders game turned vertically, their facade comprises a series of connected, usable spaces for adults and children: There is a library, playground, DJ booth, art gallery and more.
“It’s about reinventing everyday life,” Andraos said. “You turn a pretty generic garage into something that contributes to city life. It’s spectacular, without being spectacular.”
On the exterior, more or less at dead center, is a mural panel by New York artist Jamian Juliano-Villani. Called “Dippin,” it depicts a disembodied hand reaching into water for a bowling ball, an image the artist says depicts her idea of Miami.
* XOX (Hugs and Kisses), by architects J. Mayer H. (principal Juergen Mayer), Berlin.
Mayer grew up in Stuttgart, home of the German auto industry, and was always fascinated by auto design and the enamel colors of automobiles, he said. His facade design was inspired by car bodies, headlights and paint, abstracted into interlocking shapes — an appropriate look for a car garage in a design-centric neighborhood, he said.
“It’s the Design District. It’s all about newness of design,” Mayer said.
* Serious Play, by artist Nicolas Buffe, Tokyo.
Buffe, who is French but lives and works in Tokyo, combines Baroque architecture, video game imagery and Japanese pop culture in his work. The Museum Garage is his first architectural commission. Rococo arches in resin, supported by dog-like caryatids — pillars shaped like female forms — top the three garage entrances and exits, giving them a funhouse allure. Above, strands of architectural fragments, images from video games explode like black-and-white fireworks.
“I wanted to invite people to feel joy,” Buffe said.
* Urban Jam, by architects Clavel Arquitectos (principal Manuel Clavel Rojo), Coral Springs, Fla., and Murcia, Spain.
The facade was inspired by a famous scene in the film “Inception,” said Clavel Rojo, who describes it as “an exuberant accumulation of cars.” It consists of 45 car bodies in silver and gold bolted to a frame. Garage users can see the cars’ mechanical undersides from the building’s interior. At night, the cars’ tail lights and headlights light up.
Clavel Rojo splits his time between Spain and Florida and said he understands Americans’ fascination with, and often-frustrated dependence on, automobiles. A perpetual jam, much like those on the local roads, seemed apropos, he said.
“Cars are very important in the American heart,” Clavel Rojo said. “It’s so essential.”
* Barricades, by Keenen/Riley Architect (principal Terence RIley), Miami and New York.
Riley, who lives in Buena Vista East and walks to work in the Design District, doesn’t like to drive. But like all Miamians, he’s all too familiar with the ubiquitous temporary barricades used at road-repair projects all over the city, and thought a garage facade made from them would be something locals can ruefully appreciate.
“If you think about a unifying symbol for Miami, where there is construction everywhere, it’s those orange cones and those barricades with the orange lights on top,” he said.
Originally, he wanted to use actual Bob’s Barricades, but it turns out the materials aren’t long-lasting, so high-quality replicas had to be made for the garage, Riley said. To break up the facade, he added jutting concrete planters in an irregular pattern that will be filled with trees and greenery.