New ICA Museum Garage Wows with Façade Art



The Design District in Miami has been wowing us for some time now with Fly’s Eye Plazas and sculpture by top artists including Urs Fisher, but the newly completed Museum Garage that faces the Institute of Contemporary Art is shaping up to take that to the next level.

Seven levels to be exact.

The garage is covered in specially commissioned art, going up outside already while the ground floor retail is still under construction. The garage will have space for 800 cars and the exterior has been designed by five international architects.

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Choosing artists and architecture firms from around the world, the Design District’s owner, Craig Robins of Dacra Realty, has gone big and bold with exterior installations that rival anything that may ever hang in the museum across the way.

To add to the unexpected fun, lead architect/curator Terence Riley drew inspiration from the surrealist parlor game called Exquisite Corpse. Cadavre Exquis, as the game is known in French, involves a collection of images assembled by various artists with no regard or knowledge of what the other artists have drawn, producing one finished image whose individual parts don’t necessarily match but flow together as one playful composition. Under Riley’s direction, each participating architect was assigned an area and depth to build out, and given free rein to create fully individual designs. The result is a unique and modern architectural version of the Exquisite Corpse.

At an opening reception for the Garage at the ICA, the “starchitects” as they were called, each presented a projection segment that illuminated their inspirations and process.
The panel was introduced by Craig Robins, who pronounced that the goal was to make something outstanding in terms of design and art and functionality.

ICA Museum Garage Wows with Façade Art

The entrance on 41st Street is flanked by a wonderfully zany artwork called Serious Play, four 23-foot tall, full 3D caryatids stand astride the garage’s arched entrance and exits – cartoonesque statues of fiberglass plastic of minotaur like horses, elephants, and foxes that lead the eye up the seven story wall to more sculpture that drapes and decorates and merrily zips between classical and pop culture. Rendered in a clean black and white, the deeper you look the more you see as stars and hearts and hands and Disney type dogs frolic in the details.

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The madcap artist behind this garage circus is French born Nicolas Buffe, whose loony tunes work skips between fine art and entertainment, gravity and frivolous, the museum and the street – literally in this case. Born in 1978, he spent years living in Tokyo where he developed a love for anime and video games that dovetailed with his dual love for Baroque and Rococo architecture. The artist even used the words PARKING as playful 3D building blocks in a vertical sign. Serious Play looks both like something you think you’ve seen a million times before and something you’ve never seen anywhere.

Buffe showed drawings and details of how he created the work. The sculptural caryatids were made from molds then fiberglass covered in thick shiny resin.

Butting right up against Buffe’s fanciful entry, Spanish firm Clavel Arquitectos’s “Urban Jam” plays off the rebirth of urban life in the Miami Design District – where old structures and discarded spaces have been revived by architectural and urban designs, and also the fact that this is a building for cars. This vertical auto pile up is a sci-fi Batmobile mosaic like surreal traffic jam installation using 45 gravity-defying muscle and sports car bodies rendered in metallic gold and silver interlocking up and down the 7 stories southeast façade.

Museum Garage for Miami Design District photo by
Rendering of Museum Garage for Miami Design District photo by Robin Hill.

It’s a look twice head turner, the gleaming car bodies reflecting the shiny new museum and gilded stores housed in the District – Cartier, Hermes, Bulgari – all just a park and stroll away. It’s also a retro dream when cars swooped and glimmered in futuristic ads when high gas prices and safety features were non-existent. It’s enormously clever and seriously beautiful. The architects said their inspirations were French surrealists where parking lots get turned into mazes and the film Inception (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) where cities get tumbled around into circles and upside down and streets go vertical like walls.

K/R Architects from New York and Miami use actual traffic barriers from Bob’s Barricades for their portion of the façade next to Urban Jam called Barricades. Dispersed among the “barricades” are light fittings which will draw attention to the barriers at night, being able to spin with the wind. In this case, the faux-barriers are turned right side up and form a brightly colored screen. The façade has fifteen “windows” framed in mirror stainless steel, through which concrete planters pop out above the sidewalk.

Each of the five façades have custom lighting designed by the London-based firm of Speirs + Major, assuring that the Museum Garage has a visible presence at night as well as during the day. The headlights of the Urban Jam cars light up in bright red.

This structure will not only offer additional parking for the neighborhood, it will also become the latest addition to the roster of art visitors can enjoy in the Miami Design District, it will part of a free tour offered twice a month. The rates for the parking will keep in line with the standard neighborhood prices which start at $3.00 for every 4 hours.

Infrastructures and car spaces are rarely seen as architectural projects, even on Miami Beach the garage on Lincoln Road has some light effects but not much else. In the context of the Miami Design District, the Museum Garage becomes an urban component that references what it actually is used for. With an office within the Miami Design District, K/R has been involved in the creative design, strategic planning and conceptualization of the Miami Design District alongside Craig Robins since the beginning of the neighborhood’s redevelopment.  Previous Miami Design District works by K/R include the JBL Building and Hermès’ former temporary boutique – both on 40th Street – and the Dacra corporate offices.

This neighborhood has wildly exceeded its initial goal as an upscale shopping district. In the 80s and 90s, it was a run down, crime-ridden hood of one and two story stores open to the trade selling lamps and furniture. I worked in a store in 1988 back then that sold leather couches, it was so dangerous we had an armed guard in the gated parking lot and could not even walk 2 blocks to the Denny’s for lunch.

Dacra publicist Susan Ainsworth admired the crowd of hundreds who assembled in the museums plaza for champagne before the panel.

“Did you ever think 20 years ago that we would be celebrating a grand art covered museum garage in this neighborhood?” she asked.

This neighborhood is a still growing, evolving world class center for art, jewelry, restaurants and the highest of high end retailers. The singular vision of Dacra continues to surprise and astound.

ICA Museum Garage Wows with Façade Art

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