Named for its creator and lead investor, the Faena District has quickly transitioned from an undesirable, derelict strip to the home of Miami’s most expensive real estate.
Af Finn MacLeod
For years, Argentinian real estate developer and arts patron Alan Faena has been slowly acquiring properties in Miami Beach, Florida, an oceanside neighborhood and newfound hub for creatives in the city. A seasoned expert in the development of urban arts corridors, Faena has met wild success in Miami Beach, with residential penthouses selling for more than $60 million USD.
The Faena District encompasses a handful of city blocks, and thanks to Faena’s dedication to architectural design, now includes built work by some of the world’s most famous living architects. The culmination of a $1.2 billion investment, the district is now home to a residential tower by Foster + Partners — and most recently, a cluster of buildings dedicated to the arts designed by OMA, under the direction of partner Shohei Shigematsu.
The Faena Forum, Faena Bazaar, and Faena Park form OMA’s contribution to the district, including expansive and flexible art spaces, a restored 20th-century hotel-cum-events hall, and delicately disguised parking, respectively. Together, the three buildings command attention and activate the street while maintaining distinct visual identities along the burgeoning strip.
The crown jewel of the Faena Arts complex, The Forum, anchors two city blocks of OMA-designed Faena buildings. Clad in a stark white facade punctuated by a jagged mosaic of 350 angular windows, the building’s two volumes create a unique set of interior and exterior spaces. A striking form befitting of the building’s entrance, the cylinder rises dramatically above the street, cutting away at its base to create a 46-foot cantilever above a sprawling public plaza and reflecting pool. Blending seamlessly into the central volume, a futuristic black-box theatre intersects its cylindrical sibling. A nonlinear cube, the building curves, and swells as it expands across the site as if imitating a performer in motion.
Inside, the building responds intuitively to the unique challenge of programming for an infinite combination of potential uses. Home to an impressively diverse set of spaces, the forum’s flagship spaces include an amphitheater clad in pink marble and a 40-foot-tall performance space complete with a dome and oculus, which also houses a balcony for visitors. Reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, the building’s structure and circulation are focused along its periphery to maximize performance space. A spiral staircase wraps the circumference of the building, allowing for simultaneous viewing of performances inside and Miami Beach outside. Natural light pours through the eccentric windows throughout, creating a fascinating dance of light along the curved walls.
Next door, the Faena Bazaar houses private events inside the former Atlantic Beach Hotel, builtin 1939. Also clad in white but entirely distinct from its flamboyant neighbors, the toned-down Bazaar serves to balance the visual energy of the neighboring Forum and Parking buildings. Preserving the building’s historically protected art deco facade, OMA’s intervention is visible only from the inside, where the firm constructed a new central courtyard designed to activate adjacent spaces.
Perhaps the most unexpected architectural gesture in Shigematsu’s Faena arsenal is the building of least programmatic consequence: a parking garage in emperor’s clothes. Sheathed in a perforated precast concrete matrix interrupted by the occasional glass panel, the building appears like a gentle fortress, conveying very little of its true function from the outside. Inside, a sophisticated automated parking system whisks 81 cars into digitally assigned spaces, allowing visitors to shop in Faena Park’s ground- and top-level retail stores. For those preferring old-fashioned parking, the building includes additional subterranean space for more than 150 cars.
An ambitious, all-encompassing center, OMA’s designs for Faena are the culmination of decades the firm has spent refining the design of cultural and performing arts spaces around the world. In programming Faena for art of all kinds, and at all scales, Shigematsu created a wunderkammer capable of transforming as its community changes. In designing three interdependent centers in concert, OMA and Faena have all but guaranteed their success, while establishing a significant cultural asset for the people of Miami.