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Modern Metropolis: Conversation with Chad Oppenheim

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Architecture

If there is one architect who can answer the proverbial “architecture as art” question, it is Chad Oppenheim. Known for his architectural “bravado,” he is one of several local Miami architects leading a collection of design tours and events at this year’s Art Basel, the most prominent and influential contemporary art show in the Americas. While Oppenheim calls the four-day South Beach event a “vortex of art, culture and parties,” Art Basel annually turns a spotlight to the city’s contemporary art and architecture scene—which, at the moment, is white-hot. By some accounts, Oppenheim has transformed the city’s skyline over the past decade with his sleek, minimalist glass towers like Ten Museum Park—proving that South Florida luxury condos need not be exclusively relegated to the Mediterranean-Revival look to convince the elite to buy. Previews Inside Out recently caught up with Oppenheim to ask him about Miami modernism, architecture as art and what defines the city’s modern luxury lifestyle.

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Previews Inside Out How would you define Miami Modernism?

Chad Oppenheim People tend to think of it in terms of style—white, with glass. But it’s a movement.

Previews Inside Out What differentiates Miami’s modernism from modernist movements in other cities, like Los Angeles? 

Chad Oppenheim L.A. has an amazing history of architects pushing the limits—Schindler, Neutra, Lautner.  There was greater wealth, glamour and a sense of experimentalism in Los Angeles. Miami’s modernism has been based more on real estate, so it was cyclical. We have this heritage of art deco and neo-baroque Miami modern—made popular by Moris Lapidis, who designed the Fontainebleau Hotel in the 1950s. One of the best examples of early modernist architecture in Miami, though, probably came from Paul Rudolph, and the Sarasota School of Architecture, who were all climate-sensitive and focused on creating the beautiful, well-proportioned architecture that we are still striving for today.

Previews Inside Out How has Miami’s modernist architecture changed from the 1950s and 1960s?

Chad Oppenheim I think modernist architecture has become more self-aware.  Now, there is this consumer mentality that defines our architecture—the idea of “how do we sell it,” as opposed to being driven by a vision or mission. When you look back on Miami’s modern architecture of the 1950s and 60s, design was about solving issues, not making it momentous. They found ingenious ways to passively regulate climate—screens to protect their buildings from the sun or opening up walls to allow natural breezes to permeate the building.  It was architecture without architects. 

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Previews Inside Out Where does luxury living fit into a typical modern home in Miami?

Chad Oppenheim What we try to do in our work is find a certain truth in the architecture.  People resonate with a house that can be lived in and supports their lifestyle.  I can think of a couple of homes in Bal Harbor, Miami Beach and on the islands that are very modern, yet tropical and warm with walls of glass opening up to the outside. These houses are sensitive to the Miami climate and yet are still beautiful, textured and support the way people live in Miami.  This city has a very unique sensibility, where we want to blend work and leisure. It’s about people living well, entertaining, enjoying the outdoors and connecting to the water year-round.

[q name="Previews Inside Out"]What are some modernist hallmarks that you turn to repeatedly in your work? [/q]

[a name="Chad Oppenheim"]Windows that retract to create indoor/outdoor spaces and rich materials—beautiful textured woods like Cyprus and local stones like coral rock.

Previews Inside Out Do you ever draw inspiration from modernist architecture in other cities?   For example, has the recent the Brazilian boom been a design influence?

 

Chad Oppenheim In a way, they have worked independently.  But I am in awe that architects can build things in Brazil that we can only dream of building here. I’ve always been a fan of Brazilian modernism. Oscar Niemeyer, the grandfather of modernism in Brazil, took modernism and made it his own, adapting a sensual fluidity of forms that almost mimic the curves of a woman or the music of samba. In this way, it’s very important that architecture have a particular context.

Previews Inside Out If you were going to purchase an original Miami modernist home and refurbish it, what sorts of things would you look for?

Chad Oppenheim Covered outdoor spaces.

Previews Inside Out Do you think there is a natural intersection between art and architecture?  

Chad Oppenheim Yes. The arts, and certain materials and shapes inspire me. It happens on a loose level. I can look at a photograph in a gallery and store it away subconsciously. It will come back to me when it’s time to design a building.

Previews Inside Out When designing a home for an artist or art collector, would you approach anything differently?

Chad Oppenheim I’d make sure to build enough walls.

Previews Inside Out In your opinion, can real estate be art?

Chad Oppenheim Yes. They are one in the same.  What’s amazing to me, though, is how little people pay for architecture, compared to art. I’d love to see architecture move to the same level as art.

Chad Oppenheim, NCARB, AIA, is the founding principal of Oppenheim Architecture+Design in Miami. His firm’s award-winning global work has been published internationally in over 1,000 publications including multiple times in The New York Times and Architectural Record. His work has been exhibited in galleries in New York, Miami, and Rome, and he has published two books with Cornell University Press. For more information, log onto www.oppenoffice.com.

 

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Modern Metropolis: Conversation with Chad Oppenheim

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