A combination of earlier magazine work and new blog posts

The Art of Building a Museum

MAM Taps Herzog and de Meuron to Bring Its New Miami Home to Life

This past September, we found ourselves walking into the lobby of the Miami Art Museum (MAM). A crowd of several dozen people, smartly dressed for a mid-morning gathering, milled around in small groups in what appeared to be fairly intense discussions. Near the rear, in a dark-blue suit, pacing along one side of a wall, was Terence Riley, MAM’s director, who was hired earlier this year with great fanfare from his curator’s post at New York’s Museum of Modem Art. We know Riley, both from an earlier profile we did about him for Ocean Drive and from seeing him regularly at our local South Beach gym, Equinox. So we walked over. it’s going to be a very interesting day,’ he said, before even offering a hello.

We had no doubt about that. The lobby crowd consisted of art lovers, museum fans, architectural students and critics, local philanthropists, politicians and community activists. They were there for the only public hearing regarding the selection of an architectural firm to design

MAM’s upcoming 125,000-square-foot, $208 million building and sculpture garden at Bicentennial Park. One hundred-million dollars of the funds will come from a general-obligation bond from Miami-Dade County, approved by voters in 2004 by an overwhelming majority. The aim is that together with the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium, the new complex will transform the now abandoned 29-acre park on downtown’s Biscayne Bay into a world-class art center and lift Miami’s stature as a cultural hub.

Riley had helped select, and then oversee, the multiyear $800 million renovation of MoMA with Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi. As a result of his expertise, the MAM directors decided to bypass an architectural competition, and instead allowed Riley and a small committee to narrow the choices to three firms before Riley made his final recommendation. Now he was ready to present it at the hearing.

After a little chitchat with us, Riley excused himself.”  I have to go out and do my deep-breathing exercises.” And he walked outside to pace around MAM’s large Spanish-styled courtyard.

At the two-hour public meeting, Riley explained how he and an eclectic makeshift advisory committee spent six months reviewing the work of 75 architects from 26 firms. Riley’s helpers included MAM trustees, development, finance and design experts and local notables such as art collector George Lindemann, condo king Jorge Perez and developer and art aficionado Craig Robins.

They narrowed the pool to 13 architects, and then embarked on a research trip—paid for by privately raised funds—for eight days, to 13 cities, in which they cast a wide net. They reviewed dozens of buildings and interviewed trustees and curators from structures designed by MAM’s short list of architects. Some of the projects/buildings they visited included Londoner David Chipperfield’s redesign of the Saint Louis Art Museum; the futuristic Casa da Musica concert hall in Porto, Portugal, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; Zaha Hadid’s highly praised Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center; Taniguchi’s MoMA redo; Frank Gehry’s iconic Vitra Design Museum in Germany; Italian architect Renzo Piano’s overhaul of New York’s Morgan Library, as well as his creation of Paris’ Centre Pompidou; the stunning glass pavilion for Toledo, Ohio’s Museum of Art by Japanese architects Sanaa; and the $135 million critically praised redo of San Francisco’s de Young museum by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron.

Upon returning to Miami, Riley whittled the list to five, and then three, finalists: Sanaa, Chipperfield and Herzog and de Meuron. “Great architects are great for different reasons,” Riley told us. “There is no single yardstick of greatness. You have to match the architect to the problems you confront on your own project. The best candidate might be someone who is qualified, but who is not necessarily a star architect”

When Riley announced his choice for MAM, it was Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the only partners ever to win architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker. MAM’s specially selected five-member design committee unanimously approved Riley’s pick.

It is not the first time that Miamians have heard of the firm, as Herzog and de Meuron are also the architects for a cutting-edge, mixed-use commercial/parking tower at Lincoln and Alton in South Beach. Riley refers to the radical design for that structure as origami on steroids.

In his first public comments since being selected, Jacques Herzog told us, “About 15 years ago, I went every year with my wife to South Beach to enjoy the restaurants, the fashion, the beach, the weather. I used to wonder then that even the best art deco-styled buildings were mostly flat boxes with air conditioning. Very few traditional styles offered balconies and the lush vegetation that this climate deserves. I have been waiting for this opportunity, the one to design a major project in Miami, for many years.”

Since 1992, the 200-person firm has completed a remarkable 13 museums and dozens of other buildings.  They range from Prada’s Tokyo flagship store to the remarkable Tate Modern in London, where they actually converted a gigantic turbine plant into a public gallery on the Thames. And they finished the Tate work—from original sketches to final plans and mockups—in about a year, a feat most architects and designers thought impossible. In the U.S., they recently completed San Francisco’s de Young, Southampton’s Parrish Art Museum and the ambitious Walker Art Center expansion in Minneapolis. On their upcoming agenda are divergent projects; such as -a-massive urban- development in Las Vegas, as well as the several-hundred-million dollar project for China’s 2008 Olympic stadium, a design that is conceived as a bird’s nest accommodating 100,000 people.

“There are a lot of reasons why they are the right choice,” Riley later told us, “but a critical one is that it is important for an architect to understand the weather in Miami, both good and bad. Although they are based in Switzerland, they have done six projects in Spain, where they have to deal with months of sunshine and lots of humidity, so they know this environment. And they are already on the ground here for their South Beach project, so they are getting a feel for this diverse community. Their Alpine roots will translate into something architecturally wonderful in Miami’s extreme heat.”

Riley did not want, he says, to select an architect—such as Gehry—known for a signature style. He did not want what he calls “destination architecture.”

“Part of the brilliance of Herzog and de Meuron,” Michael Spring, Miami-Dade County’s cultural-affairs czar told us, Is you aren’t getting an architect with an identifiable style, but instead one capable of great design and the talent of matching a building to the place.” Riley was searching for just that. He wanted a firm that employs a unique approach on each of its projects.

“The selection of Herzog and de Meuron is a very good one,” says art collector Lindemann. “Because the County and City are contributing a lot of money, and the land, for the project, it was important that an architect with a lot of museum experience be selected. If this was being done by a private person, it might have been possible to pick a rising star whom few knew. But with Herzog and de Meuron you get both. They are well established, accomplished and experienced, and still young and hip. That is a very tough combination to find.”

Adds art collector and real-estate kingpin Robins, “The selection of Herzog and de Meuron furthers and deepens the very important collaboration between Miami and Art Basel. Because there is a dynamic between the two cities, the firm will be especially inspired to deliver a great project for Miami.”

“We do not repeat ourselves,” Herzog told us. “We don’t want to do the same thing in Miami as we may have done in Basel or London. It’s like a great cook: The ingredients on the plate might be the same, but when you cook it, the style and talent of the cook make it stand out That is what we try to do with each of our buildings.”

The only complaints raised asked why the museum had not used a traditional competition for architects in deciding who would get the final assignment. Jean-Francois Lejeune, a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, best summarizes that argument While he believes that the choice of Herzog and de Meuron is “a great one for the city,” he also contends that “at the present time, for this

“It would have been great to have architects in a limited competition.”

particularly beautiful site, for the complexity of Miami, and to best represent this city, it would have been great to have three to five of the best architects in a limited competition.”

“It was never a foregone conclusion that there would not be a competition,” Riley later told us. “If I thought a competition would have been successful, I would have convinced everyone to do it. But two things are clear from a competition: Not all of them work, and you have to have the right amount of time for them to be done properly.”

Riley cites, for example, the redo of Spain’s Prado museum, in which an open competition attracted more than 750 entries. There was no winner, and the eventual design is now quagmired in controversy and lawsuits. “It set the Prado back by 10 years,” Riley says. But he is too diplomatic to comment on the much talked-about critique of Cesar Pelli’s over budget, very late and architecturally jarring Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. It also was the result of a competition.

“Unless you have a lot of time for a competition,” Riley told us, “architects are under real pressure to come up with something fast, and it’s often flashy, not necessarily the best.° A competition for MAM would have delayed the museum’s development plans by six months to a year.

“Terry and I have had pretty lively discussions about competitions,” Miami-Dade’s Spring told us. “We’ve talked about the plusses and minuses. Many competitions ask the architects to create their final work, and I have seen that in short time spans and in such intense periods, architects spend so much effort and money to create the concept, they get married to it, and as a result never budge from what they created for the competition. As the client, you get saddled with that concept”

Although some famous buildings, such as Momma’s redo, or the Sydney Opera House, were competitions (Danish architect Jorn Utzon, virtually an unknown, would never have gotten the Sydney assignment without one), other noted projects eschewed one. There was no competition or even interview for Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain. Riley believes that the main advantage of a competition is to exhibit the various designs and encourage a general dialogue, and he expects to do the same thing with MAM by publicly displaying Herzog and de Meuron’s plans so there will be continuous input from the community.

But public review and comment is some way off. The firm will need four to five months just to put pen to paper and develop a concept. An exhibition of the near-completed design, Riley hopes, will be presented during 2007 Art Basel. The final building is scheduled to open in 2010.

“The MAM and the science museum in Bicentennial Park are the next major building blocks in establishing Miami as an international culture center,” Miami-Dade’s Spring says. “These will help transform Miami into the cultural center it should be and can be. In addition to Art Basel and the performing-arts center, it puts us on the map.

“We are setting the course for the arts for our city for generations to come,” Spring adds. “We can do things uniquely, and with a 21st-century feel, which will make Miami one of the most exciting cities for the arts.”