Faena Forum cultural center opens in time for Art Basel with a cultural carnival through the streets of Miami Beach

Alan Faena, owner and visionary behind the five-star hotel on Miami Beach.

What kind of delirious developer rounds off the creation of a phantasmagoric, ultra-luxe beachfront hotel and companion price-busting star-architect condo tower by sinking $150 million or so into recasting ancient Rome’s Pantheon as a dazzling 21st-Century cultural center, complete with robotic parking garage?

On mid-Miami Beach?

The Man in the White Suit does.

Starting Sunday, Miamians of all stripes can enjoy the fruits of Alan Faena’s unconventional, high-minded vision when the Argentine entrepreneur, who always dresses in white, inaugurates his Faena Forum with a three-hour, Carnaval-like street “processional.” An immersive mix of music and movement featuring a local and international cast of artists and performers, Tide by Side will put an avant-garde gloss on Miami’s manifold cultural traditions — an actual Miami “melting pot” on a float, a monumental piñata, a Cuban conga ensemble that marches backwards, and a parade of food and lonchera trucks, including a limo towing a barbecue grill.

And, yes, the public is very much invited.

“We want everybody to celebrate because it’s for the community,” Faena said of the new Forum. “It will be something really spectacular for the city. The building is really a piece of art. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cultural buildings in the world, and it’s in Miami Beach.”

Developer Alan Faena poses inside the Faena Forum, designed by Rem Koolhaas, on Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. The Faena Forum is his arts center that is part of his Mid-Beach Faena District. PATRICK FARRELL

 

The Forum, designed by Dutch star-architect Rem Koolhaas’Office for Metropolitan Architecture and his partner Shohei Shigematsu, is the capstone of the developer’s expansive Faena District, a multi-block collection of structures new and renewed on both sides of Collins Avenue between 32nd and 36th streets.

What exactly is the Forum? It’s 43,000 square feet of empty spaces enclosed within a cylinder that’s attached to a cube, devised with maximum flexibility to accommodate a broad range of exhibitions, events, lectures and performances.

But what spaces: A sunken ground-level amphitheater within the cylinder features pink marble floors and high-tech capability for surround projections. Above it: a vast, rounded 40-foot-high domed “assembly hall” with a clear central oculus. A spiraling ramp around its perimeter wall leads up to an observation balcony high above the floor and a ceiling that, unlike the coffered Pantheon, has corkscrewing supports reminiscent of the inside of the shell of a chambered nautilus. The domed hall connects to the interior of the cube, another massive room with a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Indian Creek that can be swung open to hoist in big sculptural pieces, equipment or installations.

Curator Ximena Caminos, Faena’s life partner and director of their nonprofit Faena Art, has called it a “polyphonic space” that will encourage the blurring of traditional lines of art and performance while also hosting corporate events and even lectures by philosophers. In fact, there’s one on tap for Tuesday — a presentation by Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani, now living in America — that will be bracketed this opening week by a dance coreographed by Pam Tanowitz in collaboration with Shigematsu and a benefit concert by Madonna for her Raising Malawi charity.

The pink-marble amphitheater on the first floor of the Faena Forum. Nik Koenig, Courtesy of Faena

 

As Faena describes it, the Forum will be an alchemical “collaboratory” in which extraordinary cultural figures will have the space and freedom to transmute ordinary cultural practices into something golden and unique. He said it will function much like his Faena Art Center in the Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires, the public centerpiece of a multi-use redevelopment in the city’s once-forlorn docklands that gave the former fashion designer his start in the building business and served as inspiration for the Miami Beach district.

“It’s not an art center. It’s not a museum, “ Faena said of the Forum. “Our idea was to build the Forum as a symbol and platform for the world’s most interesting and creative people to play Miami Beach. We will put all the best minds in the world to work to create a utopian place.”

Architect Terence Riley, who launched the move of the Miami Art Museum into a new bayfront home as the Pérez Art Museum Miami, applauds the Faena Forum’s mission and execution. He said there’s no other place like it amid the myriad cultural buildings in the city because, like a kunsthalle — the German term for a blank exhibition space — it’s unburdened by a defined artistic mission or an art collection that takes up most of the available space.

“One of things that’s absolutely true about Miami is that there is little unprogrammed space,” Riley said. “If you want to have an (artistic) event, the museums are programmed to the hilt. The notion that this is a new kind of kunsthalle-type amenity and is led by people truly interested in programing for the city, that’s a huge asset. There can be some wonderful things happening there.”

The Forum is one of three adjoining Faena District structures, all designed by OMA, set to formally open this weekend.

Just to the north, the historic Atlantic Beach Hotel has been converted into the Faena Bazaar, a high-concept, high-fashion, high-design “modern souk” that will feature rotating brands and evolving retail presentations. It’s flanked to the north by Faena Park, an automated four-story, 235-car garage, also by OMA, that joins the Beach’s collection of parking structures designed by famed architects. The garage’s angled, precast concrete exterior walls are perforated by holes for light and ventilation and, appropriately, recall Miami Modern or South American Tropical Modernism architecture. The garage is topped by a pavilion with panoramic views.

The domed ceiling and oculus in the Faena Forum, designed by Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture. Nik Koenig, Courtesy of Faena

 

The trio of buildings joins the Faena Hotel, a thorough revamping of the historic, MiMo Saxony Hotel that opened last year, and Faena House, a streamlined new residential tower designed by the firm of British architectural eminence Lord Norman Foster, both on the beachfront side of Collins. Also in the Faena District is a small boutique hotel, Claridge’s. Still to come: a refurbishment of the historic Art Deco Versailles Hotel, now gutted. Originally slated for conversion into condos, the Versailles may instead be brought back and expanded as a hotel, he said.

It’s been a remarkable run in less than five years for a developer who was virtually unknown in South Florida before he began snapping up properties in sleepy mid-Beach just after the Great Recession. Faena, whose projects in B.A. and the Beach have been backed by Ukrainian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik, said he never intended to be just another luxury developer.

“I was always thinking in a big way with my partner Len. This a city that has always been a futuristic city with great developers, great creative minds. With a project like this, we are putting Miami Beach back to a place it never should have lost,” Faena said.

 

“Ximena and I are living in Miami for the past three years, and we feel a part of the community. I personally think this will be a blessing for the community,” he added, referring to the Forum. “I hope this will part of the new Miami skyline, and a voice for the future.”

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