Argentinean hotelier and entrepreneur Alan Faena is not exaggerating when he says he is building a 'mini city' in Miami. What started out with his purchase, two years ago, of the 1940s Saxony Hotel in South Beach has snowballed into the redevelopment of six entire blocks. When it opens later this year and next spring, the Faena District will consist of apartments, shops, restaurants, art, opera and theatre. 'It will be how a city should look,' he explains.
Faena has a track record of turning his utopian visions into reality. Over the past decade he has transformed the rundown area of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires into a thriving oasis of luxury hotels, apartments and culture. He plans to make the same impact on Miami Beach, but on a larger scale.
The Gatsby-esque developer, who tends toward an all-white wardrobe and trademark fedora, approached director Baz Luhrmann and his wife, set-and-costume-designer Catherine Martin to collaborate on the Saxony. 'They signed up straight away, saying: "You turn what we do in the movies into reality,"' he explains.
Only two apartments are still for sale in Faena House, a 19-storey block of luxury condos designed by Foster + Partners (Faena himself owns one). And a programme of exhibitions and artist residencies is currently being devised for the Arts Centre, being built by OMA. It will connect with its sister organisation in Buenos Aires, where Ernesto Neto, AES+F and Los Carpinteros have exhibited in the past. Thomas Heatherwick will redesign the Versailles Hotel, which Faena purchased in August last year.
We caught up with Alan Faena on site in Miami to find out more about the project...
Wallpaper*: Why Miami?
Alan Faena: Often a place finds you, rather than you finding it. Two years ago, we had the chance to buy the Saxony, and later a site came up on Collins Avenue [where Faena House is under construction]. Miami is a fantastic place. It's two hours from New York, and with its climate in winter, it's like the difference between life and death. A lot of South Americans also come here. It's buzzing.
What made you embark on a project of this scale?
In Buenos Aires, we have changed the Puerto Madero neighbourhood entirely. This is what I love: to develop districts, to humanise places through urban regeneration. I don't just want Faena Miami Beach to be interesting for residents and hotel guests, but also for the taxi drivers who come here and for locals who can come and shop, eat, and see art. So much talent is going into creating these six blocks, but that can't be where it stops. The art centre, the theatre and cabaret [both inside the Faena Hotel] and Casa Claridge [the newest addition, a small hotel that will nurture local artists] will ensure the talent keeps coming.
Does Faena Miami Beach have a Latin flavour?
In some ways, yes. The apartments [in Faena House] are wrapped with huge balconies. We call them aleros in Argentina, and they are where a large part of daily life takes place. In Miami, you can spend 60 per cent of your time outdoors, so they make sense. This is the first time that we in the South are bringing our culture to the North on such a large scale. We are proud and there is a lot at stake. I believe we have the best real estate in the city. Faena Miami Beach is a country, with a flag, a coat of arms and heraldic symbols [all designed by Studio Job]. It will change Miami Beach forever.