Miami artist, architects win design competition for new park in Wynwood

Wynwood real-estate entrepreneur Tony Cho, looking to green up the neighborhood, decided to create the first park in the warehouse-dominated hipster heaven on a vacant lot behind his Gateway project. And then he went … a bit further.

He sponsored an international architectural competition to come up with a winning design.

Funny how things turn out, though: After sifting through 238 blind entries from 23 countries, an all-star jury picked a felicitously apropos scheme that, to everyone’s surprise, happened to be the one submission from Miami.

Cho, who has pledged to cover a chunk of what’s expected to be a not-insubstantial construction bill, pronounced himself “shocked’’ but delighted: “The level and caliber and integrity of the competition was very high,’’ he said.

The product of a collaboration between artist Jim Drain and Florida International University architecture-school professors Roberto Rovira and Nick Gelpi, the winning scheme consists of a light, open structure that recalls the frame of a greenhouse or warehouse roof.

The angular structure would be built around a big old oak on the lot, and would enclose a garden-like space with native grasses and flowering plants that’s designed to draw butterflies and birds as well as people. The park would be flexible enough to accommodate everything from a farmers market to a fashion show to quiet contemplation, its co-designers say.

“It would really be transformative for the neighborhood, which we think has an incredible future,’’ said Rovira, chair of the landscape architecture and environmental and urban design department at FIU. “We’re optimistic that this kind of project will be a model for other things happening in Wynwood down the road.’’

The park, called Wynwood Greenhouse, will remain privately owned but would be open to the public, Cho said. Though the competition set a ballpark budget at $500,000, Cho and the designers expect the real cost could be as much as twice that. Cho said he’s confident he can raise the full amount through donations and, possibly, some public funding. He hopes the park will be open by next year.

Though the broader Wynwood area does have Roberto Clemente Park and other public spaces, the warehouse district south of 29th Street that’s famously become a hub for art and nightlife is an old industrial zone entirely lacking in parks.

But as increasing numbers of people flock to Wynwood to work and play — and with several developers set to build new housing in the neighborhood — the need for a park became obvious, Cho said.

Cho’s firm, Metro 1, had just completed the first phase of its Wynwood Gateway project, the conversion of an old building on the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and 29th Street into a retail center anchored by a Ducati motorcycles showroom. He decided an adjacent lot running from 29th to 28th streets that he owns, and which was being used as a parking lot, would be a good place for a park.

“I thought, why keep this as a parking lot when I can do someting impactful for the community?’’ Cho said.

He recruited the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects and DawnTown, a nonprofit that has run several architectural competitions focused on promoting design innovation in Miami, to run a contest with global reach and a jury that included, among others, architect and former Miami Art Museum director Terry Riley, Mexican architect Enrique Norten and prominent critic James Russell.

First prize came with a $10,000 cash award.

Given Wynwood’s arts bent, Gelpi and Rovira reached out to Drain, a Miami artist known for colorful sculptures and installations who both of them knew, to give their submission an extra dimension. And while the plan has no obvious or stand-alone artwork, Gelpi said, Drain was closely involved in sketching out and developing ideas, especially in devising ways the park could accommodate artistic events or installations and contributing his color sense to the selection of flowering plants.

Drain also designed multi-colored bollards to protect the park’s front from wayward motorists that are reminiscent of those he installed this year at PortMiami, Gelpi said.

The designers saw the 14,000-square-foot park project as a way to bring back a bit of nature to a neighborhood defined by concrete, while blending in urban elements like moveable seating and benches and a paved walkway that will run the length of the lot, creating a new connection between 28th and 29th streets.

The benches would be built into modular “green walls’’ made of blocks of planters and a base of woodcrete, a building material made of ground-up, mineralized melaleuca trees, an invasive species. Two earthen mounds planted with native wildflowers would provide topographic definition.

The canopy would be made of thin aluminum members and have built-in LEDs that Rovira said would make the structure glow after dark. Because the lot once held two bungalows, the structure has two peaked points that recall their vanished rooflines. Rovira said.

Drain captured the park’s essence in an offhand quip one day, Rovira said: “A place for butterflies, and for social butterflies, too.”

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