The cutest forklift in South Beach.
No Name Pub
The No Name Pub on No Name Key is an establishment simultaneously ripe for unmet expectations and underestimation. From the outside, it’s all tourist schmaltz and curly Q’s. The oldest bar in the Keys! Built in 1936. One couldn’t be faulted for failing to believe either claim. This venerable institution is housed in a ramshackle cottage layered thick with coats of yellow paint. Like the other buildings on this sparsely populated island, it could have been built anywhere, at anytime. Only its pastel hue suggests South Florida, and only its laissez-faire attitude toward maintenance suggests The Keys.
Out of sheer stubbornness, I was prepared for the No Name Pub to suck—possibly in a good way, but in spite of itself. The menu didn’t immediately suggest a diamond-in-the-rough. It offered the full spectrum of domestic beers and its own amber ale. The house amber was fine, but like most house ambers, there’s a good chance it’s somebody else’s house amber. Generic and without charm, it gets you from Point A to Point B. Also, the bar specializes in pizza. Bars do not specialize in pizza.
My skepticism was turned back just inside the door. The Pub’s walls and ceilings are lined with cash—a quarter million I was told—creating a dining ambience of fishing wharf chic spun through an upturned strip club. You needn’t linger on the artistic merits of this style (Too PoMo? A hyper-gauche critique of contemporary capitalism?) Just order the grouper sandwich. A half hour later your vision will be hazy and your stomach content. Since you’re not from South Florida, you’ll also wonder what, exactly, a grouper is. It doesn’t matter. It’s damn good.
The haze is infectious. Perhaps it’s the secret ingredient in every dish they serve. Through it, you notice that your friends are acting weird. Is Danny taking a call in a loud bar, or is that a ruse to swipe a few bills to cover tip? Both options are equally plausible. The night rolls on. Eventually, the haze fades. And when it’s all done, it turns out the pizza was pretty damn good.
A recent trip to Key West found and a group of high school friends backtracking to Big Pine Key. We were in search of midget deer. No, it’s not nice to say, but I doubt those pint-sized Bambies will mind. Being island dwellers, its doubtful they’ve ever seen their full-sized brethren. Loud whisper voice: They don’t actually know that they’re really small! Also, because the key deer are so tintsy-intsy, they run that island. They cross the street without looking and ain’t scarred of nada. It’s as if nobody has told them that they’re endangered. (They are.)
At the Blue Hole, the freshwater lake that occupies a former rock quarry, we scoped a four-point stag. This little creature was surprisingly friendly and unintimidated by our cabal of bloodthirsty hunters. (Only one amongst us was an actual hunter.) Though he spoke in extended soliloquies about mounting the deer’s small head on his wall, the deer was unfazed. He was so disarmed, and disarming that I forgot to snap a photo of him. The key deer are trixy. Left in search of consolation, all I got were these shots of vegetation and brush. There were signs about the various plants. I read them—poisonwood stands out, for obvious reasons. But I retained exactly none of the knowledge that loitered in my head before my thoughts returned to small deer. Fucking small deer always win.
Over the past few years, the effects of sea-level rise in South Florida, and Miami Beach in particular, have come into focus for a broader constituency. Flooding, mitigation infrastructure, and the state’s wayward political discourse have provided ample material for a growing body of coverage that expands beyond arcane carbon projections and the pace of glacial ice melt. It is a story about human civilization, sufficiently filled with contradiction and illogic.
If scientist’s projections bear out, much of Miami Beach and the Florida Mainland will be below the mean sea level within the next century. Billions could be lost in the form of real estate that, this time, is literally underwater. Still, the industry remains a pillar of the local economy and the preferred pathway for government officials to raise funding needed to build the region’s infrastructural defenses. These efforts may be for naught. Even before a reckoning arrives and water crests over the seawalls, damage to the tourism industry from climate change (i.e. lots of bad weather), or a lack of market confidence would effectively level the local economy.
Amid the mostly underwhelming collection of furniture and textiles at Design Miami, the student-designed entry pavilion, Unbuilt, was particularly noteworthy for, yes, being somewhat outstanding, but also for the overtly cynical approach that its designers took to the project. One might’ve assumed that the youth of the commission recipients, Harvard graduate students all, would produce an earnest gesture rooted in the students’ architectural nascency. In other words, quaint, but refreshing. On this count, they batted five-hundred. Displaying upturned massing models made of pink foam—a practice typical of the early phases of conceptual design, minus the upturning—they make few inroads into fresh architectural territory.
Instead, Unbuilt reads as gasps of exhaustion from young designers ground down by a fruitless search for architectural novelty. Foam modeling, and contextless formal studies have long served as a means of architectural exploration. In the last quarter-century, particularly with the ascendence of Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), displaying foam models has been used a savvy form of exhibition. The models provide a window into the architectural process that is simultaneously messy, yet monolithic and stylized enough in its uniform pinkness to be gallery appropriate. Today architectural firms produce dozens, even hundreds of little pink models as part of an iterative design-by-attrition process. The factory approach to architectural discovery churns through countless ideas until the best rise to the top. Decades into this practice, one could easily wonder what ideas, and certainly what forms, remain to be unearthed.
Unbuilt‘s designers seem to hold few insights into this question. Though the designs are claimed as their own—the exhibition literature states that the pavilion “champion[s] unrealized designs that would otherwise never see the light of day”—one can easily point to look-a-likes of Marina City designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early ’60s or Toyo Ito’s Tama Art University Library. There’s a simplified version of Koolhaas’ mobius-strip shaped CCTV, as well (surprise!)
In lieu of novel forms, Design Miami‘s entry pavilion hints that the profession may have reached a saturation point—the likely outcome of the architecture’s documentary obsession, particularly online. The profession’s infatuation with the dissemination of plans and photographic material for publication can, at times, give the impression of being almost as important as designing itself. A healthy blogging ecosystem serves as an enabler to this impulse, making almost every building of significance designed in the last decade readily available. Buildings are as thoroughly consumed from a distance as meals from restaurants that you will never eat at. Through multiple outlets and trade magazines, contemporary tastes are curated and normalized in their fleeting and infinite variations. Nowhere did this mediated fatigue appear more visible than in the recent Guggenheim Helsinki competition, where 1,715 entries displayed architecture form-making ad nauseum and to the point of repetition.
Trained in the practice of merciless iteration, and with every precedent at their fingertips, Unbuilt‘s designers (curators? interns?) are not unveiling fresh ideas so much as they are demonstrating what happens when highly-caffeinated designers flip on autopilot and grind towards a deadline. There may be some excitement in the three-dimensional nature of the products, a testament to architecture’s enduring allure, but there’s not much else to see. Poking study models with a stick is architecture’s equivalent of framing legal briefs, and mounting them to a wall.
The Prentis Building and Deroy Auditorium Complex, Wayne State University, 1962–1964
June 13th, 2015