Pioneering South Florida contemporary visual arts and culture nonprofit Oolite Arts has pulled back the curtain on its Barozzi Veiga–designed new home in Miami’s Little River neighborhood with the release of new visuals of the hotly anticipated commission.
Oolite Arts revealed that it had tapped Barcelona-based Barozzi Veiga for the project just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020 and, at the time, the organization had planned to open the doors of its new Little River home at 75 NW 72nd Street—a long, railroad track-adjacent warehouse site—in 2022. Located north of Wynwood and the Miami Design District, the fast-changing Little River and adjacent Little Haiti are home to a buzzy independent art scene and the galleries, studios, and hip haunts that come along with that.
As things go, progress was hampered by the pandemic and the new Oolite Arts complex is now slated to open in 2024.
When the then-35-year-old Oolite Arts’ move across Biscayne Bay into Miami proper was first announced in March 2019, it signaled a new, more expansive era for the organization, which has maintained a longtime physical presence on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach and is widely credited for helping to usher in the cultural—and later commercial—revitalization of that historic strip after it had fallen into decline in the 1970s and 80s. (In 1960, Lincoln Mall emerged from a transformative makeover by MiMo maestro Morris Lapidus as one of the first pedestrian malls in America.) The 2019 announcement of the move from Miami Beach to Miami also came with a name change: previous to early 2019, Oolite Arts was known as ArtCenter/South Florida.
Oolite Arts has said that the move to mainland Miami, made possible by the offloading of one its Lincoln Road properties for $88 million, will enable it to better expand its programming while reaching new artists and audiences.
When it debuts, the $30 million space will serve as home to Oolite Arts’ signature artist residency program, cinematic arts programs, lecture series, and more than 200 community art classes. As Oolite Arts President and CEO Dennis Scholl described it, the “new space will be a thriving cultural hub where artists can grow and come together with international visitors and neighbors alike.” Core elements are set to include up to 21 gratis individual studios for resident artists along with a large exhibition gallery, theater, classrooms, print studio, organizational office space, community garden, and more. In total, Oolite Arts will gain over 10,000 square feet in available space, with the new facility spanning 26,850 square feet compared to its current 16,000-square-foot space. As a result, the organization will reportedly enjoy a 50 percent capacity boost of its residency program.
Despite the COVID-related setbacks, the Oolite Arts campus will still be Barozzi Veiga’s inaugural completed building in the United States. It won’t, however, be the Catalan firm’s first-ever stateside venture. In 2019, it was hired to create a new master plan for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Back in Europe, Barozzi Veiga has taken on a slew of high-profile cultural commissions such as Poland’s Mies van der Rohe Award-winning Szczecin Philharmonic Hall (2014), the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels (2020), and a handful of Swiss projects including the Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur (2016), the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts Lausanne (2019), and Tanzhaus Zürich (2019). In 2021, the firm designed a pair of Artists’ Ateliers for the London Design District.
“We understand architecture as a background for life or work. We try to give the artist the best conditions to work,” explained firm co-founder Fabrizio Barozzi. “And that means finding this balance between a very intimate space, which is represented by the studio, and a space for community life, which is part of Oolite’s DNA.”
Working alongside Barozzi Veiga on its first built U.S. project is Miami-based architect of record Charles H. Benson & Associates.
Described as a “space that prioritizes both artist and community needs, striking a balance between public and private,” the design of Oolite Arts’ low-slung, almost bastille-like concrete compound in Little River appears both cloistered and open at once (its accessible to the street on all sides), and less a uniform building, more a cozy configuration of ateliers that together form the “village of artists” described above.
Elaborated Barozzi Veiga in a design statement:
Imagined as a calm and open setting that maintains the artist as the protagonist, the center’s architecture will harness the power of diffused natural light to offer artists spatial scenes in which they can realize their personal explorations. The design’s repeated vertical elements will function as skylights, solar chimneys, wind catchers, and water tanks while also creating a collection of rooms.
As alluded to above, the building is designed to have a minimal environmental footprint and is set to attain LEED certification.
“We wanted the project to be a surprise for the artists and the community. Behind this opaque concrete wall, you don’t expect to have such an exuberant garden,” added Barozzi of another major element of the new Oolite Arts campus: a lushly planted interior courtyard that’s open to the larger community. “This can create a kind of beautiful surprise when you discover the interior.”
Oolite Arts’ renowned Studio Residency program has supported more than 1,000 Miami-based artists its nearly four decades in existence with alumni including Germane Barnes, William Cordova, Teresita Fernandez, and Michael Richards. Recently, the organization also launched Home + Away Travel Residency program for artists. The organization will continue to house resident artists and produce public programming on Lincoln Road while its new Little River digs are under construction.