Kobi Karp moved to Miami in the late 1980s to work as an architect because of its prime location — near the Caribbean, that is.
“It was Miami Vice and Scarface days; there was really no work being done here,” said Karp, 52, who started out with British firm Lane Pettigrew Wood Karp on Lincoln Road.
What a difference two decades makes. These days, the more than 80 employees who make up Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design, where Karp is president, are busy with residential, retail, mixed-use and hospitality projects — most of them in South Florida.
That shift reflects the changing international profile of Miami, Karp said: “We were seen as a sea, sun and sand part-time resort city. Now we’re seen as a cultured, civilized, progressive destination.”
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He has had a front-row seat for that evolution. Karp lives in Miami Beach with his wife Nancy, who runs advertising and marketing for the company, and his sons Aden, 13, and Jordan, 19, whom he calls “my two most important projects.”
Originally from Israel, Karp moved with his family to Minneapolis as a child and attended the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology, where he earned degrees in architecture and environmental design.
Since he founded the firm in 1995, he and his team have designed projects around the globe that cost developers over $36 billion to build. The company offers both architecture and interior design services, with architecture making up 60, sometimes as much as 70 percent of the business, Karp said.
During the early days of the South Beach renaissance, Karp worked on renovations of the Astor and Edison hotels among others, developing a reputation for restoring historic properties. He brings that resort sensibility to residential properties.
“You have to be humble, and you have to be realistic that in this world of capitalism, you always have to be on the cutting edge and provide a service that other people cannot [deliver] on an ongoing basis,” Karp said. “We fill that void. There’s a gap of design firms who are in Miami who knew and understood lifestyle resort apartments [and] condominiums, and we focused on that. And we were lucky in the last boom and also in this boomlet, if you will, to be one of the firms who is able to design and produce and deliver these type of prototype projects.”
Just in the past few months, several Karp-designed hotels have opened locally, including the massive 1 Hotel South Beach, Thompson Miami Beach, AC Hotel Miami Beach and Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami.
Developer Robert Finvarb built the AC and Hyatt Centric, both of which opened in the last few months. He had worked with Karp on earlier projects and has another coming up — a 19-story Residence Inn in Sunny Isles Beach.
“Kobi has a very good ability to design something that is appropriate for not only its surrounding area contextually, but also while recognizing what kind of budget you have to work with and what kind of product you’re trying to develop,” Finvarb said.
The firm’s ongoing jobs include the Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences in Fort Lauderdale, the Surf Club Four Seasons Hotel & Residences with New York-based Richard Meier & Partners and a four-tower development on the Miami River for the Chetrit Group.
Karp said the company prefers to study the area, history and environment for each project and come up with a design unique to the location, but the firm is generally known for a modern glass-and-light-filled look.
Peter Zalewski, a South Florida condo analyst who tracks construction projects on the site CraneSpotters.com, said Karp is known for his practical approach rather than jaw-dropping buildings.
“It’s going to be efficient, it’s going to make some sense, it’s not going to make you rub your head and say, ‘What was this architect thinking?’” he said.
And while the bulk of his work is coming from Florida recently, that hasn’t always been the case. When the local real estate market tanked in 2007, the firm found work overseas, in the fast-growing United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other locales. Some of those projects have recently been completed after years of planning. They include a 700-room contemporary hotel in Mecca with Islamic architectural details, a beach and golf resort on the northern coast of Honduras with 60 junior suites and 15 villas and a power plant in Turkmenistan that includes educational space.
Karp said the firm has seen positive, steady growth over the years. The company expects to complete about 20 projects this year. Business has grown about 5 percent annually over several years.
“He basically has carved out a nice little niche for himself as someone who is consistent, reliable and always competitively priced,” said Zalewski, who consulted for a developer on one project that Karp designed. “From a developer’s perspective, that’s what they’re looking for.”
International experience, Karp said, has helped raise the company’s profile for clients outside the region who are developing within South Florida.
“As a Miami firm, we like to work throughout the United States of America and internationally to spread our designs and mitigate our risks,” he said. “I would like to find ways to continue and expand the outreach.”
Partners and observers say Karp’s local experience makes him especially valuable to developers.
“It’s absolutely critical, if you do something down here… that you align yourself with somebody who knows the landscape,” Finvarb said.
Karp said he finds opportunity in working with historic preservation boards. “If it’s combative, it’s wrong,” he said. “Solutions come from energies from both directions.”
Max Comess, a director in the hotel group at commercial real estate investment banking firm HFF, said he has worked on several projects that Karp was renovating, expanding or modernizing.
“Where Kobi Karp does a really, really good job is in adaptive reuse or rehabilitation or expansion of historic building,” Comess said. “You have to balance the past with the future, and you have to enhance these buildings but respect the context of the building.”
Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design
Headquarters: 2915 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 200 in Miami
Employees: More than 80
Total projects: Designed more than $36 billion worth of residential, hospitality, retail, mixed-use and other developments
Recently finished: Hyatt Centric South Beach, 1 Hotel South Beach, AC Hotel Miami Beach
Awards: Outstanding Service Award from the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects; Gold and Silver awards, American Resort Development Association; Merit awards from Miami Design Preservation League and Florida Builders Association