Frank Gehry should be plenty busy with ambitious plans to revitalize downtown Toronto and to expand Facebook’s offices on the boards. Now, Gehry has been commissioned by the National YoungArts Foundation (NYAF) to update one of Miami’s most elegant and historically significant urban spaces: The Bacardi Complex on Biscayne Boulevard.
Bacardi Floating Stair. (Adam Mizrahi)
Purchased below market for $10 million by the NYAF—a nonprofit arts organization that helps aspiring high school artists—Gehry will convert the former 3.5 acre corporate campus into a new arts complex. “By acquiring the Bacardi campus we are able to honor and preserve an important part of Miami’s cultural history,” Paul T. Lehr, executive director of YoungArts, said in a statement. Known for his curvaceous object-buildings, Gehry has already addressed obvious concerns from local community members and historic preservationists. “It’s not going to be a building that’s architecturally published in any way,” he told The New York Times, suggesting that his renovations won’t include his typical flourishes on the campus’ exterior. “But it’s a place I want to go.”
A jewel of Miami Modernism (MiMo), the complex houses the beautifully-proportioned, 8-story Bacardi Headquarters Building (1963), a structure that elegantly fuses European, Latin American, and Caribbean Modern influences. Arguably one of Cuban architect Enrique Gutierrez’s best projects (designed in collaboration with Mies van der Rohe), Bacardi quickly became a symbol of hope and nostalgia to Miami’s newly immigrated Cuban community, a burst of intense formal beauty on an otherwise banal Miami streetscape. Its solid north-south facades showcase tropical murals designed by Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand, who used 28,000 6″ by 6″ hand-painted blue and white ceramic tiles to produce a warm, exotic contrast to the cool, gridded glass facade floating above the street.The “Jewel Box,” 1975. (Courtesy David Stark)
Behind the tower, a smaller, 2-story annex building nicknamed “The Jewel Box on a Pedestal” (1975) hovers 47-feet above the street. Designed by local Coral Gables architect Ignacio Carrera-Justiz , the Jewel Box also fuses architecture, culture, and art. Its exuberant one-inch thick glass mosaic walls, produced by French stained glass artists Gabriel and Jacques Loire, were designed by German artist Johannes Dietz to reference the rich and complex rum-making process.
Miami’s Preservation Board designated the complex, including its buildings, “historic” in October 2009, prohibiting demolition and protecting its heritage from insensitive alterations. Gehry, who has long been friends with NYAF’s founders, will make interior alterations to accommodate new educational programs, design a new public park, and build a new performing arts center to replace an existing—non-landmarked—office building. “I have been a mentor to some of the YoungArts students and know what a tremendous impact this organization has on them,” Gehry said in a statement. “It’s a privilege to help make a new home for YoungArts, so it can do even more for these wonderful young people.”