Miami’s Hidden Metropolis

This past October Metropolis was invited to Miami, to celebrate the 2002 release of Design Is… Words, Things, People, Buildings, and Places, the first book produced by the magazine.

Hosted by Kartell at their new showroom in the Miami Design District, the evening was a mixture of design, culture, and fun. Guests mingled while Susan S. Szenasy, Metropolis Editor in Chief, signed copies of the book.

As the hot Florida sun set, inside the cool space Ivan Luini, president of Kartell, welcomed Metropolis readers and Kartell admirers alike. Many of the colorful displays were complete with Metropolis’s October issues, some turned open to the feature on Kartell and Luini’s efforts to conquer the American retail furniture market with
high design.

The company’s Miami flagship is located just north of downtown in the heart of the Miami Design District, the recently revived neighborhood of architecture and design resources open to the public. The area was once a historic pineapple plantation, and Kartell’s unusual building-within-a-building includes the former homestead of the plantation, according to Carlos Valdes, the Miami store’s manager.

Kartell’s bold logo shines day and night on the building’s façade. Designed by Italian architect Ferruccio Laviani, the 6,000-square-foot shop is the Italian manufacturer’s largest worldwide. This one, like the others, reflects its special location: tropical colors and sleek, white-lit platforms, floor to ceiling shelving with colorful furniture set off by lush red and subdued white walls. There is a striking contrast between the raw concrete floors and Kartell’s bright and glossy colors. The well-designed store is a worthy backdrop for the high-tech products sold at relatively affordable prices.

I entered walking past the Ero|S| Swivel chairs into the hall of the Maui and FPE chairs, and continued through to the mock-up office, complete with a full view of the backyard decked out in Phillipe Starck’s Bubble Club line. I re-entered where the Mobil container carts, in every available Kartell color, were perfectly lined up on the lighted display stage. Guests mingled around the store and ventured over to the book signing table, where conversations with Luini and Szenasy ranged from issues about design education and sustainable architecture to the growing popularity of Miami’s design district.

Later into the evening Szenasy gave a short talk and slide presentation on design through the past 21 years. She began with when Metropolis was first published in 1981, tying in the five sections of the book—words, things, people, buildings, and places—to the magazine’s covers through the years. She spoke of Metropolis as not only a resource, but also a companion to share new ideas with, concluding that good design is necessary, essential and will continue to be.

The evening captured such big names as Craig Robbins, president of Dacra, a group of Miami real estate companies who specialize in revitalizing rundown areas. Robbins has acquired most of the abandoned areas of South Beach and restructured them and uses a clever PR plan, involving young and dynamic new investors who have opened up hotels, restaurants, clubs and cafes that bring fresh interest and new life to old neighborhoods.

Another notable attendee was Nasir Kassamali, the visionary who, along with his wife Nargis, began the Luminaire stores—first in Coral Gables, Fla., and then in Chicago in 1974. Luminaire has a new contract furniture showroom in Miami Design District, near Kartell.

Metropolis was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of former senior editor Janet Rumble, who is now in architecture school in Miami, and visited with her adorable baby daughter, Zelda. Could she be among the next generation of Metropolis editors or architects?

Categories: Cities

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