– Zaha Hadid
A microcosm of Miami itself, Miami Design District has evolved into an immersive destination brimming with art, fashion, food, culture, and design. This 2.5 square mile cosmic epicenter for cutting-edge retail and experiential creativity has been hailed as the future of the retail landscape, and it has the artistic credentials to back it up.
Late architect Zaha Hadid’s signature “Elastika” installation bridges the lobby of the pristinely preserved art Deco Moore Building, a recreated prototype of Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome” makes a striking statement in the district’s Palm Court, and the work of 29-year-old mural artist Amani Lewis graces an alley wall. From museums to galleries, and from exhibitions to installations, art is everywhere at Miami Design District.
It wasn’t always the style vanguard it is today. Once a gritty neighborhood known as Buena Vista, real estate developer and art collector Craig Robins saw the possibilities when he began acquiring real estate there in the 1990s, persuading designers like Alison Spear and Holly Hunt to open showrooms in the area.
By 2010, Robins’ development firm Dacra collaborated with L Catterton Real Estate—a partner with LVMH—to create a master plan that would transform the commercial warehouse district into a sophisticated neighborhood where world-class art, architecture, luxury shopping, and dining would blend into one seamless experience, leaving pedestrian-packed streets free for sensory exploration.
The district’s anchor retail stores like Fendi, Givenchy, Loewe, CELINE, and Off-White attracted Kering corporation megabrands such as Gucci, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, each designing standout landmark storefronts. Following this creative fervor, in 2015, Tom Ford opened a flagship store with a signature angular façade by American designers Aranda\Lasch.
That same year, Robins commissioned late architect Terence Riley to conceptualize a parking garage facade. Drawing inspiration from the surrealist parlor game Exquisite Corpse, Riley enlisted four architects, each assigned an area to build out and each given free rein to create individual designs. The seven-story Museum Garage, or “Collage Garage,” as it’s known, explores urban and cultural themes, pushing the boundaries of art and architecture.
Robins’ playful and creatively conversant approach expanded to Miami Design District’s annual design commissions, initiated in collaboration with Design Miami/, the sibling fair to Art Basel Miami Beach. The DASH Fence—a permanent, 100-foot fence at the Design & Architecture High School that appears to undulate depending on where it’s viewed—was created by 2006 Design Miami/ Designer of the Year awardee Marc Newson and is a prime example of a civic structure doubling as a work of art.
Yet another illustration was created by French designers Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, who designed “Nuage,” an organic pergola of metal sculptural forms that provide shade, shelter, and seating along the district’s Paseo Ponti between 40th and 41st Streets.
This year’s winner of Miami Design District’s annual design commission, architect-designer Germane Barnes’ winning installation Rock | Roll celebrates the communities that have shaped Miami’s polyethnic culture. Further satisfying any taste for the new, pop-up exhibitions by Deitch Projects, Gagosian, Mitchell-Ines & Nash, and Goodman Gallery showcase international artists and draw large crowds during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair, with Miami favorite David Castillo offering year-round art gravitas.
From his private, curated collection throughout Dacra’s offices to the monumental public art mural by Brazilian artist Criola spanning Jungle Plaza, Robins’ secret is grounding the neighborhood with exemplary art, design, and retail while concurrently investing in boundary-pushing, fresh experiences designed to titillate.
“Murals by John Baldessari, Sou Fujimoto’s glass building facade in Palm Court, and Urs Fischer’s “Bus Stop” are just some of the marvels that make the Miami Design District what it is,” says Robins. “I recall standing in the Moore Building with Zaha Hadid shortly after we unveiled her site-specific installation “Elastika.” It was her contribution to the neighborhood when she won the 2005 Designer of the Year award from Design Miami/. It was an incredible moment, and the piece instantly became a part of the Design District’s character.”
At a time when physical retail has evolved from transactional to transformational, Miami Design District has reimagined it as a stage—where fashion, design, art, architecture, and dining come together, and visitors are invited to play.