Koolhaas may have first taken to melding architectural theory and practice in Miami, which he first visited in 1972 on a fellowship that required him to do nothing more than travel in the United States for three months.
He was both collaborator with and influence on the Arquitectonica founders, who included Duany and his wife, University of Miami architecture dean Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. With Arquitectonica co-principal Laurinda Spear, he designed an early, award-winning version of what became the Pink House in Miami Shores, which under a later design gained the fledgling firm its first fame. Koolhaas’s ideas also informed the firm’s early signature Brickell Avenue condo towers.More than two decades later, OMA was picked as a finalist for the performing arts center in competition with a collaboration between Arquitectonica and Duany and Plater-Zyberk’s firm. OMA’s proposal would have joined both halls in one structure and run a highway right up to it, a scheme that proved too radical for the selection committee, but that some to this day prefer to winner Cesar Pelli’s comparatively staid design.
“That was Miami’s great, great missed opportunity,” Duany said. “If Rem had done our performing arts center, that area would be hopping today with the whole sheer glamour of it. Super intense.”
Last year, Koolhaas finally landed a Miami project, at Argentinian developer Alan Faena’s redevelopment of Miami Beach’s historic Saxony Hotel, 3201 Collins Ave. OMA has designed a compact urban district across Collins from the historic Miami Modern landmark, consisting of a sleek parking garage and a ballroom and cultural center, as well as the renovation of a smaller, adjacent hotel.
Like much of the firm’s recent work, the Faena project aims to create a unified place where there is none now by connecting the buildings with a plaza and a succession of atriums and entry lobbies, Shigematsu said.
On a bigger scale, it’s the goal of OMA’s convention center proposal, too.
Beach developer Robert Wennett, who hired the equally famed Herzog & de Meuron firm for his garage at 1111 Lincoln Road Mall, brought in Koolhaas when he joined Tishman Hotels and Realty, the New York builders now erecting the new tower on the site of the World Trade Center, to bid for the Beach convention center project.
The $1 billion redevelopment would revamp the convention center and add a hotel, apartments and new public spaces to the 52-acre site, which Koolhaas has called an urban “dead zone” defined by “a devastation” of parking lots and garages in the middle of a uniquely situated city.
“Miami Beach is a completely interesting hybrid because it is, on the one hand, a resort and, on the other hand, a real city,” Koolhaas said. “This condition of city and water on two sides I think is really amazing. And in the heart of that city, it has put an enormous convention center, an enormous physical presence.
“Unfortunately, its architecture is so harsh that instead of a positive effect it has a negative effect. So our mission is very clear. We have to undo that harshness, turn what is now a promising area with problems into a coherent new urban center. Because I think that’s what it can be.”
LeJeune, the UM architecture professor, says Koolhaas is the only contemporary architect who rivals the breadth and depth of the idiosyncratic vision of Le Corbusier.
The European architect is celebrated as the patron saint of modern architecture, as much for his radical, still-controversial schemes to remake cities — he proposed demolishing much of central Paris and replacing it with a succession of identical towers connected by highways —as his buildings.
“If you look back in a few years, I’m absolutely convinced Rem will be the guy about whom all the books will be written, the way it is with Le Corbusier,” LeJeune said.
Having to choose between Koolhaas and his precociously accomplished former associate puts Miami Beach in an enviable position, he said.
“We have to consider ourselves unbelievably lucky,” LeJeune said. “Both Ingels and Koolhaas? What other city has that?”