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To coincide with the DesignMiami/ fair, architect Rene Gonzalez, who is based in the city, is inviting the public into a new (or nearly complete) house he has designed. It is built on stilts, the first in a series of “Elevated Houses” he hopes to develop in Miami to deal with the hot, wet, hurricane-prone conditions. While many new houses in the city are designed as sealed air-conditioned boxes, Gonzalez’s is a sequence of pavilions linked by open-air, sometimes uncovered spaces. “My client is a risk taker, he’s prepared to get wet,” he says. The water from the pool runs down the wall beneath the house, providing cooling. Since the client is based in Michigan, and this is a vacation home, the folded bronze staircase that leads up into the house can also be pulled up like a drawbridge, making it impenetrable.
Inside, Gonzalez is exhibiting design objects on sale through RGA Rocket, the new platform he has established to stage this show and others in the future. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” he says. “When I see work which reflects my ethos, I like the idea of giving it more exposure, particularly to my own community.”
Exhibits include the limited edition Quark coffee table by French designer Emmanuel Babled, one in clear resin and one in copper ($66,000 and $33,000 respectively). It’s a monolithic, digitally produced design, though the resin version has a looser, liquid quality. Babled’s Void table, in a pale grey marble that curls down into a central void, makes the heavy material appear incredibly light ($66,000, limited edition). Elsewhere is a four-metre dining table by the Latvian-born, Amsterdam-based designer Germans Ermičs ($55,000, unique piece). Its top is a single piece of glass that graduates in colour from clear to navy blue.
Perhaps the most fascinating works, though, are not the usable objects but the six foot tall petrified wooden pieces, excavated from the desert sand, and bleached and
polished in natural conditions.
Such materiality dictates the design of the house, too. It appears to be constructed from a series of planes — shuttered concrete, greying sapele wood, glass — floating above ground, surrounded by tropical greenery.
Gonzalez grew up in Fort Lauderdale, having come to the US from Cuba with his mother as a young child. He studied architecture at the University of Florida, then at UCLA, where Frank Gehry was a visiting lecturer and students would learn about multiple disciplines. “Florida had been pretty mathematical and rigorous. At UCLA we’d have a lecture on Chinese literature,” says Gonzalez. “I was floored at first.” But he quickly became a standout student and worked on the Getty in Los Angeles with Richard Meier after graduating.
When Gonzalez returned to Miami in the late 1980s, it was hardly a city with cutting-edge architecture at its heart. But now, he says, “you have the Pérez Art Museum Miami and [the mall] Lincoln Road, and a lot on the way.”
His own contributions include a recently completed residential tower, which pops up just south of Fifth Avenue among five-storey buildings. “It’s 18 storeys, the last to be built at this height in this area, so we had a responsibility to make it somehow sympathetic,” he says. Clad entirely in glass, it reflects rather than dominates the surroundings, and its floor-by-floor setbacks lend delicacy to its design.
A new restaurant, Plant Food + Wine, opened in the Wynwood district of the city this summer, its Gonzalez-designed interior all soft bamboo ply and gold scrim, though it’s hard to work out where the inside ends and the outside begins. “We’re in Miami after all,” says Gonzalez. “I want to get people to go outside, look at the sky. It’s one of the city’s greatest assets.”
2038 Praire Avenue, Miami Beach, to December 4, renegonzalezarchitect.com