As Miami slowly emerges from the settling dust of this unprecedented building boom, one of it’s greatest assets, the quality of design, becomes more and more evident. The DESIGN DISTRICT, in what is now known as the Midtown area is poised to become the poster child of sorts, for what is possible when carefully planned and designed neighborhoods are given the chance to consider all aspects of dynamic urbanism.

True to its name, the design district is, step by step, illustrating what will become a global model for excellence in contemporary architecture. Led by Craig Robins and his development company DACRA, this vision seems to be in very good hands. Robins first led a resurgence of Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road and transformed Allison island into the unique urban enclave today known as Aqua at Allison island. Robins’ exciting choice to invite many different architects to design both single family homes as well as midrise condos seems to have been a precursor to his strategy for the Design District. With luminaries such as Hariri & Hariri, and local brilliant designers such as Alan Shulman and Alison Spear, it seemed a venture guaranteed success.

While the earlier achievements of DACRA played out on the fertile grounds of the absurdly underappreciated Miami Beach, in the early nineties, the task of reinventing the Design District still goes on now as the red hot real estate market has undeniably cooled. The tranformation has in truth been a long steady process. World class showrooms of furniture and interiors products have one by one re-located to the district. Recently some of the most significant purveyors of exceptional contemporary design, Luminaire, and Ligne Roset, have joined the longtime retail strongholds Kartell, Abitare and Fendi CASA.

Many architecture and design firms transplanted themselves several years ago, at the very beginning of the changes, urban design pioneers, including Shulman and Oppenheim Architecture + Design, who are now slated to have no less than three major mixed use towers rise in the district. It was with the revolutionary plans for the Design District that Oppenheim stepped in an entirely new direction for the firm with the projects, CASA, CUBE and COR. While it remains to be seen, when and if we will these buildings rise. They will most certainly contribute to the area truly becoming a haven for savvy aesthetes.
As is the signature of DACRA development, several lesser known, yet stellar firms design firms have been asked to contribute to the final vision for this exciting neighborhood. Keenan/Riley have contributed design for several smaller buildings, including a hotel and a two story building for galleries to be fronting Biscayne Boulevard as the gateway into the Design District.


As is often referred to here at, the smaller, pedestrian friendly edifices, are one of the most essential elements to creating a thriving neighborhood. Geared to walking and moving in and out of several retail establishments, at a scale that is conducive to just such activities, and as the visual representation of the neighborhood, the interesting architects Robins selected and the buildings designed for these parcels give great promise to the area. These come following in the footsteps of the much heralded Oak Plaza, one of the recent major steps in the districts future plan.
Miami has always had a unique tradition of both experimentation and excellence in design. A quality that many find as gratifying as the beautiful beaches and climate, and sets Miami apart from anywhere else in the U.S. Where else could be better for this legacy to continue than the Design District. From it’s earliest development to Art Deco. From Morris Lapidus’ influence with the Fountainebleu through the International Style and Miami Modernism and right up through the present with Arquitectonica and Oppenheim. While the building boom of towering condominiums may have reached its peak this actually makes way for the other work that needs to take place to make the great city a reality For small infill projects that will be the thread to hold the fabric of the new skyline together and create a livable city, a city used by its citizens, with the backdrop of a stunning skyline. Any number of designs such as this beautiful, forward thinking building by Columbia school of architecture instructor Craig Konyk, that invite, even insist on the interaction of people with there urban environment is the way to go.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I really like the first building with what look like wind turbines throughout. I’m glad to see that building hasn’t just halted and that worthwhile projects are still in the pipeline.


  2. Xavier says:

    Great stuff James. My guess is that the DD will unravel in the form of the smaller scale Tuttle Street-like developments, which I think is great. The area is shaping up to be vastly different from any other enclave we’ve seen in Miami before. It’s exciting to observe its current state and consider the possibilities.


  3. Anonymous says:

    I know someone who put money down to purchase a unit in the design district. I believe it is part of the “four projects” which consists of the buildings pictured at the top of your post. They put the money down 4 years ago and the building still hasn’t even started to be built. The builder is now out of money and can’t even afford to give back people’s full deposits in cash.

    So they haven’t broken ground and don’t have any money to build the project or give back money. And I think the building developer has changed a few times already.

    These design district buildings aren’t starting on a good foot. The designs are gorgeous but I fear we may never see them.


  4. James Wilkins says:

    I tried to get some info. on the level of reality we are dealing with for the article, but got little help in finding answers. The architect of the last building posted responded and said that the building was still online to be built…but he could not say when.

    As for the towers of 4Projects. They are all still listed on Oppenheim site with scheduled completion dates, further in the future than originally planned. Can’t say if this is accurate, or to what degree. It seemed for a little while that COR might get fast tracked to capitalize on its ‘green’ features and how they are an obvious expression in the design. Last I heard COR was to have broken ground in July 07. Casa is well into the construction phase with a foundation poured and I have been told it will go vertical soon. There is however no telling from day to day if construction might just stop, at any point, on any project.

    I fear that many of the best designs are often those that get killed off first. I hope thay are only temporary setbacks.

    As Xavier mentioned this is why we may see several small buildings come to fruition before more towers. Not necessarily a bad thing for the district and Miami in general. I sincerely hope that your friend is delivered a stunning unit before to long. The least they can do for making him wait so interminably.

    It is very frustrating.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Any news about the transportation system in that area?

    How about the fantastic new generation street car they are supposed to build?

    How about Metromover going there


  6. Anonymous says:

    As to James’ comment “Casa is well into the construction phase with a foundation poured and I have been told it will go vertical soon.”

    They poured the foundation so they can get their construction loan. Then once they got the money they stopped building. It has had the foundation for some time now without any further work done on it.

    And my friend has called a bunch of times about the building and they have never been able to give him a date as to when the building will actually be built. And according to their lawyers, they are broke.

    (this is the same anonymous as above with the friend buying the condo in design district)


  7. James Wilkins says:

    Echhh. I can’t deliver any other info at this time about Casa. and everything you are saying Anon is like other horror stories we have heard. I am not well versed in real estate law but, is there any kind of clause in his contract regarding the security of his investment? If they got the loan, are they not obligated to either build or return deposits? Does the lender have anyone to oversee certain milestones in construction? With so much pre-construction sales going on in the last five years it would seem that some of these issues must have been broached.

    There is so much smoke and mirrors as this all plays out. I didn’t mean to paint a false image of the design district, but only comment on what is still advertised and promoted and the potential future, aesthetically, and in terms of urban issues. It may be further off than we think, or not exist at all.


  8. Anonymous says:

    Despite my comments about my friend, I still enjoy your optimism and sharing your knowledge on the future of the design district. And I really truly still hope that the projects in the design district work out. It has so much potential (as everyone has said a million times) and maybe a few more years will change everything? For the sake of Miami, I really hope so!

    As a side note - I live near the design district and dream of its potential (and have banked on it).

    Actually, I don’t see your post putting a false image at all. It could still happen in the future. But I think it’s just the way distant future. And damn those buildings you posted are beautiful!

    I don’t blame you for thinking it could happen sooner because they way the developers advertise it you would think the buildings already exist or are just so close to being done.

    As for clauses in the contract - there is one that says a portion of the deposit stays with the title company (which has happened) but about 15% of the deposit they can use. That part of the deposit is now gone. So that is why people can’t get back the full deposit right now.

    And yes, there is an obligation to build within 2 years.

    My friend isn’t out of luck - he will just need to make a scene in order to get back all his money. He has made a demand and they have flat out told him they don’t have all the money to give back.

    My friend was actually looking forward to owning this condo and making a profit in the future with it.

    And I just want to apologize for posting as an anonymous. I normally wouldn’t but there are some legal issues with my friend and the developer and I didn’t want to breach any confidentiality or whatever. If that is possible on the internet? I don’t know….

    By the way - I really enjoy your blog :)


  9. James Wilkins says:

    Well on the optimistic note. : ) While there may be twenty or so buildings planned for the design district, If we just saw these six buildings posted it would be phenomenal. It would bring worldwide attention from the architecture and design community that would further fuel the fire.

    In fact, I believe that just those two Tuttle St. buildings…the last two posted, being built on Biscayne Blvd. at the gateway to the district would call the attention of the global design community and fuel the fire.

    How much can those 2 buildings cost? $6 million…maybe 10? I recall Chad’s Ilona price tag being something like 2.5 million dollars and it is 6 stories, not two…albeit 6 years ago.


  10. john says:

    I read the comments by anonymous and although I am not their friend, I am in EXACTLY the same boat with CASA and my deposit. They offered all of the money back last year plus another 55% to get out of the building but a the time I chose not to “take the money and run”, as they say. I’m sorry now as I think Miami is in DEEP trouble with this condo glut. It will be a decade before those units are fully absorbed. In the meantime areas like the Design District will creep along and a few building may be built but that optimism you speak of has to be balanced with a dose of harsh reality. Mos of these developers had dollar signs in their eyes that have now turned to X’s… Good luck, as an artist and a New Yorker I had looked forward to spending my winter there in the future, and I may still but Miami will see some rough times ahead, I’m afraid…. I’ll let you know if I get my deposit back.


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