The Miami Design District, spearheaded by real estate development company Dacra, is in the final phases of becoming the design, fashion, and cultural mecca of Miami. With half the 120 newly planned retail spaces already open and the aim of near-completion in the first quarter of next year, the transformation of the area is immense. This advance in redevelopment was boosted when Dacra, founded by Craig Robins, teamed up with L Real Estate, an investment company backed by luxury mega-brand LVMH. However, the transformation of this quarter-square-mile area did not happen overnight, and it is Robins’s long-term investment and integration of art, design, architecture, and fashion into the DNA of the architectural and urban planning for the area that has made it such an appealing destination during Art Basel Miami Beach.
The Design District began its transformation in the late 1990s when Dacra began buying properties in the area. In 2011, Dacra boasted 26 properties that housed a compilation of retail design stores, low-key bars and restaurants, artist-run exhibition spaces, and artist studios. The first culinary attractions included the former Sra. Martinez, a restaurant by celebrated chef Michelle Bernstein, who later opened local favorite Crumb on Parchment, as well as Michael’s Genuine, a coveted eatery by acclaimed chef Michael Schwartz that is a preferred destination for locals and visitors alike. These early foody hotspots were complimented by an array of contemporary art spaces that grounded the Design District as an art center, including the now defunct Moore Space and artist-run spaces Primary Projects, Bas Fisher Invitational, and Dimensions Variable (now all based in downtown Miami), as well as the steadfast and renowned nonprofit Locust Projects.
“Craig has always been a visionary. And when he envisioned the Design District as a high-profile destination, he invited Locust to become a tenant. I think Craig realized that in order to provide the Design District with a great energy he needed to have the arts be present. The synergy of food, art, shopping, and design has made it a true community,” said collector and Locust Projects chairperson Debra Scholl.
These art groups also establish the district as nighttime-friendly. Capitalizing on the crowds attending the Wynwood Arts District art walks, Dacra created an art walk through the Design District, which packs its streets every second Saturday evening of the month.
In 2009, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz fortified the presence of contemporary art in the Design District by opening their 30,000-square-foot exhibition space to showcase their significant private art collection. Fashion followed suit, and it was the opening of the Christian Louboutin store that same year that set off a flurry of interest from other big-name designer brands. Within two years, Yohji Yamamoto, Cartier, Dior, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton announced plans to move their stores to the area, firmly positioning the Design District as a high-end luxury destination.
This was only the beginning. In 2012, Dacra and L Real Estate revealed an ambitious redevelopment plan that featured a four-block-long tree-lined pedestrian walkway, a group of new restaurants, luxury condominiums, and 100 new retail stores, including Tom Ford, Emilio Pucci, Berluti, and Fendi. These plans also boast a public art program showcasing pieces from Robins’s collection, reassuring critics that the grand plan is also a deeply personal investment. In 2005, Robins commissioned Zaha Hadid, the inaugural Design Miami/ designer of the year, to create an installation inside the 1920s historic Moore building. Hadid designed Elastika, a sculpture composed of sprawling white organic tendrils that stretch across the building’s atrium.
The following year, Marc Newson was named Design Miami/ designer of the year and was commissioned to create an outdoor project. As Newson said, “the design school needed a new fence, so that turned out to be the perfect project. The fence ended up being relatively complex to produce, due to the sheer number of components and the challenges of finding a manufacturer.” Newson contributed a bespoke, shimmering fence for the entrance of Miami’s Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH). “The end result works very well as a fence with sculptural qualities,” he explained. “Standing in front of it, one can see through it like blinds, but from the sides it gives a striped, ripply effect.”
These significant integrated design works laid the foundation for the Design District’s public art program. In 2011, Robins purchased Buckminster Fuller’s 24-foot, restored Fly’s Eye Dome, 1961 to be the pedestrian walkway’s central feature. More new works include a mural by Matthew Ritchie, 16 NETSCAPE, 2010 swing seats by 2010 Design Miami/ designer of the year Konstantin Grcic, and an installation by acclaimed artist John Baldesarri.
With such creative investment underlying the core of the Design District’s urban plan, it is no surprise that the area remains a center of ABMB activity. This year, the Design District calendar lists a bevy of high-profile fashion, art, and design events, including “The World of Mr. Somebody and Mr. Nobody,” an exhibition featuring fashion icons Walter van Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm, a vintage fashion pop-up shop by Bravo’s “Dukes of Melrose” star Cameron Silver, and the exclusive Design Miami/ Design Visionary Award dinner, among others. The newly formed Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA) debuts with an interim exhibition in the Moore building in lead-up to its relocation.
Opening a 7,700-square-foot showroom in October in time for ABMB, longtime Design District resident Luxury Living group is confident: “In the nine years that we have been present in this neighborhood, we have seen the area develop into a hub for art, culture, fashion, and design, all of which resonate well with the Luxury Living collections,” says Raffaella Vignatelli, president of Luxury Living USA. “In offering a greater variety of our products on a larger surface, we are taking the next step to grow our brand in this exciting part of town.”
As the final phases are executed, the Design District upholds its position as an ABMB creative center.
This article was first published in Whitewaller,