Modernist architect Mark Hampton excelled in South Florida because he knew how to tap into the natural beauty of the area: its light, its greenery, its ghosts.
Hampton’s design work on the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum transformed a former Washington Avenue storage building into a museum, akin to “a historic grand hotel,” a Miami Herald architecture critic once wrote. “A full-fledged experience, from the awe-provoking lobby, on.”
In 1965, 15 years into his architectural career that began in Tampa, Hampton partnered with the Miami firm Herbert H. Johnson & Associates that designed Bal Harbour Shops, which opened that year. In 1971, when Neiman Marcus became an anchor store at the upscale mall, it carried Hampton’s design.
Hampton, who died Feb. 28 at age 91 at his Coconut Grove home, was still an architectural consultant for Bal Harbour Shops as its owners plan an expansion of 250,000 square feet of new retail space.
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“Mark claimed to be retired but every time I would talk to him and say, ‘What are you doing?’ he would say, ‘Oh, so and so, a former client called,’” said best friend, Miami attorney Nicholas Pisaris.
“That’s still my favorite mall, a lovely space that feels like Mark to me,” said Lea Nickless, collections specialist for the Wolfsonian. “The use of interior-exterior and this sense of balance, it feels like Mark to me. He had an incredibly strong eye. He wasn’t just a technician but was an artist looking at things from an aesthetic perspective and he was a Florida guy who was influenced by his natural environment. He loved to look at plants and the structure of plants that influenced him in a way. The symmetry and beauty of nature is somehow found in him.”
Pisaris noted how that aesthetic played out at Hampton’s own home in Coconut Grove. He didn’t design the original house but, as he did with the Wolfsonian building and Bal Harbour Shops, he improved upon it considerably.
By painting the exterior walls black and interior walls white.
“You could say he was a black and white guy as far as colors go but it was fascinating because it was heavily planted beautifully with orchids. The black house just fit right in with the greenery,” Pisaris said.
In 2010, the University of Miami School of Architecture hosted an exhibition of his works.
Hampton was born in Tampa on July 17, 1923. He served as a captain in the U.S. Army Infantry during World War II and graduated in 1949 from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in architecture. He joined the Sarasota firm Twitchell & Rudolf and opened an office in Tampa before relocating to Miami to join Herbert H. Johnson & Associates. By 1974, he opened his own practice in Coconut Grove and had earned Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects.
The institute awarded Hampton the Mark the Test of Time Award and the Honor Award for Design in 1987 and Works in Progress award in 1991.
Friends, family and colleagues recall “a true, authentic Southern gentleman,” said Pisaris, a friend of 50 years. He reads an email from his niece Stephanie Pisaris from North Carolina.
She called Hampton her “honorable knight in shining armor” because while on a visit to Pisaris’ nearby home in the Grove she came upon the “various marsupials who traverse the streets at night,” Pisaris said, chuckling.
“I called Mark and he said, ‘Honey, I’ll come over and get you right now and you’ll spend the night.’ He was so polished yet genteel, kind, warm and funny. It was always like Christmas or some special event whenever I saw Mark. He always made the day better when he was around,” her email to Pisaris read.
“He loved what he did and continued creating and producing and organizing people’s spaces. He knew how to make all that happen and he did it with such grace. He was such a lovely man. I wish I had a recording of his voice. To me, it was the most soothing thing,” Nickless said.
Seemed Hampton could charm anyone. Except, perhaps, the ghost that plagued his buddy Micky Wolfson, the philanthropist who owned a Mediterranean-style mansion on Miami Beach’s North Bay Road that was built by the parents of a woman who was killed on the way to her wedding in the late 1930s.
In the late 1980s Hampton did some design work at the 7,700-square-foot manse, a dozen or so years before pop singer Ricky Martin put a bid on the property.
A 2001 Miami Herald real estate story on the sale reported that Hampton said the woman’s spirit often pulled panels from the ceiling and turned on radios. Once, the two friends heard a groan from the dining room after Wolfson talked to Hampton about changing the drapes.
“We both heard an oooh,” Hampton said. “It was a little chilling.”
Hampton is survived by his brother, Dr. John B. Hampton. Private services are pending. Donations in Hampton’s name can be made to the University of Miami School of Architecture.
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