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‘Tribal chic’ design is planned for Miami tower on 2,000-year-old Tequesta site

A rendering shows a “tribal chic” design concept for the rental tower at Met Square. While supposedly inspired by South Florida’s Tequesta tribe, the artwork seems more reminiscent of the Navajo
A rendering shows a “tribal chic” design concept for the rental tower at Met Square. While supposedly inspired by South Florida’s Tequesta tribe, the artwork seems more reminiscent of the Navajo

An architecture firm designing an apartment complex on what was once a Native American village in downtown Miami has dubbed its interior design “tribal chic,” saying the concept was inspired by South Florida’s Tequesta tribe.

But, strangely, and perhaps showing questionable taste, an interior rendering shows artwork drawn mainly from the American Southwest.

Quicker than you can say “cultural appropriation,” online commenters began poking fun at the idea. Robert Carr, Miami-Dade County’s former chief archaeologist, was also left scratching his head.

“There’s nothing Tequesta about it except for the ground underneath their building,” said Carr, who led an excavation that unearthed the foundations of 11 Tequesta structures and thousands of artifacts near the mouth of the Miami River

There’s nothing Tequesta about it except for the ground underneath their building.

Robert Carr, archaeologist

Stantec, the architecture firm behind the interior design of Met Square, did a quick about-face following a call from the Miami Herald Tuesday afternoon.

“The references to the Tequesta Indians and the use of ‘tribal chic’ was a misinterpretation between public relations sources and Stantec,” said a statement issued by Stantec’s public-relations firm, Oberhausen Marketing & Public Relations.

The design firm did not explain why it released a rendering of the tower’s lobby with Native American influences, if Tequesta-inspired décor was not its goal.

The rendering shows elements inspired by indigenous artifacts, including a dream-catcher and silver work. But those objects seem drawn from Navajo culture in America’s Southwest, according to Carr.

“There’s no evidence the Tequesta used dream-catchers,” he said. “And the rug is vaguely Navajo looking, too.”

Beth Alonzo, a spokeswoman for Orlando-based developer ZOM, said ZOM did not know about or approve the “tribal chic” plan.

Conservation fight

After the discovery of the 2,000-year-old Tequesta village in 2013, the master developers of Met Square — Miami-based MDM Development Group —engaged in a lengthy conservation battle with the city and county. An agreement was reached the next year to preserve and display important archaeological finds. Two museum exhibits will be open on the site.

(Met Square was also the site of Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm, one of Miami’s first hotels.)

The 43-story tower at 340 SE Third St. is part of a $1 billion project called Metropolitan Miami, developed by MDM. It spans several blocks on Southeast Third St. between Biscayne Boulevard Way and Southeast Second Avenue, and includes condos, rental apartments, the Wells Fargo Center, a Whole Foods Market and the JW Marriott hotel.

2,000 yearsAge of Tequesta village in downtown Miami

ZOM bought into the project last year and is now developing Met Square, which will include rental apartments and a movie theater. The developer hired Stantec’s Miami office to design the interiors.

“Drawing inspiration from Miami’s earliest residents, the Tequesta Indians, and their adjacent archeological site, Met Square’s interior design concept is ‘tribal chic,’ ” a Jan. 12 news release from Stantec states. “Tribal design touches can be found throughout the building’s elegant, expansive lobby. A stainless steel detailed marking on the wood flooring reflects the path of where the Miami River’s edge once flowed and leads to a fossil carving on the white marble reception desk.”

Paying tribute

Carr, who praised the developers for the preservation compromise, believes using the tower to draw awareness to the Tequesta was a good idea executed poorly.

“By using the word ‘Tequesta,’ at least it makes people aware that there was someone here before them,” Carr said. “But if they’re really interested in playing off the Tequesta theme, they should do a lot more research to identify design motifs that are consistent with the Tequesta.”

Other Miami developers have erred when attempting to pay tribute to the Tequesta.

Giant potato men.

Ryan Wheeler, Florida’s chief archaeologist, on another developer’s attempt to pay homage to the Tequesta

At Icon Brickell, near the Tequesta site known as the Miami Circle, the Related Group built six tall columns fronting the circle and decorated them with large, oblong metal heads. The sculptures, also meant to recall the mysterious stone figures on Easter Island, were mockingly dubbed “giant potato men” by Florida’s chief archaeologist, Ryan Wheeler.

The Tequesta and neighboring tribes were known for the striking geometric and animal motifs they used on pottery and tools.

The tribe inhabited the Everglades region for roughly 5,000 years. After a decline following contact with Spanish settlers, the Tequesta became extinct as a culture in 1763. That’s when the British took Florida from Spain. Many Tequesta were evacuated with the Spanish to Cuba, where they were converted to Christianity and eventually absorbed into local cultures.

Miami Herald staff writer Andrés Viglucci contributed to this report.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas