Miami Beach's only building by the legendary architect Michael Graves, 1500 Ocean Drive, which was promoted during its construction, in the early days of the South Beach renaissance, as "The Michael Graves Building," may be getting a sadly, very un-Gravesian renovation by interior design firm SoJo Design. Graves himself owned a condo (and later two condos) there for about twenty years, periodically did additional design work for the building pro-bono, and donated his art to it, although he recently had to sell, and is no longer able to visit.
We spoke to Graves, who said he "loved the building and loved the people in it" the entire time he lived there, and was devastated to have to sell his unit about a year ago because he was no longer able to afford it.
The SoJo plans, which are restricted to porte cochere, lobby, and pool area, seek to "glitz up" the place to keep it competitive with other buildings, by replacing Graves' understated, postmodern aesthetic with something much flashier and even, dare we say, industrial, using marbles, subdued colors, and metallic finishes. The idea of his signature being besmirched from the building, the only building of his which he ever lived in (he now lives in a warehouse that he renovated), has devastated him yet again.
Most of 1500 Ocean Drive's residents seem to agree that an interior renovation is in order, but according to Lesley Abravanel have fiercely divided themselves into two almost equal camps over whether to go forward with the current plans or not. Opponents to the SoJo plan are proposing that Graves himself do the renovation. Graves himself has lots to say on the subject in a letter to residents:
March 18, 2014 Dear Residents of 1500 Ocean Drive,
I'm not sure any of you know, but I have been in practice now for fifty years, and this is the first time something like what is happening at 1500 Ocean Drive has occurred in my professional life. So, I'm new to all this and for that I am sorry. I should tell you all that there is a different way architects approach problems like this than decorators and designers do. Architects have a full knowledge about what things cost and the rules that govern certain changes. For instance, the new covering that is proposed (if I am reading the SOJO drawings right) for the pool area is raised up from the present grade and therefore is not ADA compliant (ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act), in other words, this change is not lawful. I looked at the proposed changes to the floor plan of the lobby and I don't know whether you are all aware, but it is massive. While I was a resident at 1500 Ocean Drive, nobody ever told me that they were dissatisfied with the way the lobby functioned, let alone its appearance. Therefore, I simply don't understand why those changes were made. It appears that there is an epoxy coating proposed for the floor finish in the porte-cochère, this too raises the height to a point where it will not be ADA compliant. These were always our stumbling blocks in former conversations regarding the material in the porte-cochère. The designers have made an addition of natural stone to one side of the porte-cochère with a large logo on its face. This is the only place that stone would be used in the building and therefore strikes me as an anomaly and not in character with the rest of the building. I feel the same way about the tiles that are used on the island in the porte-cochère, the only adjective that comes to mind for these changes is "glitzy". There are natural stones used as new flooring in the island – which will be very unwelcoming in regards to certain shoe types. With regard to the lobby, do you all realize that upon entering the axis leads you directly to the assistant manager's office, which has a glass façade? It seemed to me the original location for the reception area, where the assistant manager now is, is much preferred.
There was a mention of a $50,000 fee in a letter to me, I don't know where this number came from as I gave my services pro bono. My services had to do with the ocean room, the recovering of the furniture and drawings for the elevator cabs. I am quite frankly, devastated by all of this, but don't know what I can do. It's so strange to me to have gone through the reupholstering of the furniture throughout the public spaces and the installation of the gaming tables in the ocean room, for somebody to come along and say, "Let's do it again". I am sure you are aware of the enormous cost to each of you. I suspect, if a contractor gave you a preliminary bid, it would exceed the number you are now using. Even the current number to me, would kill the deal for what you are getting. Would it be more reasonable for you to take smaller steps in all of this and perhaps, do the porte-cochère first and see how that turns out, instead of the complete upheaval that would be caused by the changes to the lobby, etc. as currently proposed. I would propose also that you make a distinction between material upgrades such as the resurfacing of the porte-cochere and what has been called "freshening". Freshening, I suspect is a euphemism for redesign. That has nothing to do with material changes, but individual esthetics.
This is hard for me to say, but I noticed that the bottled water that's given out to residents has on its logo, "The Michael Graves Building", I was quite surprised to see that , but I'm sorry to say that it will no longer be true if the proposed changes are implemented. There are elements of design throughout the proposal where I simply don't understand the rationale. For instance, there are two round columns in the lobby with a Venetian plaster finish I have always thought were quite beautiful, but the new scheme makes the round columns square. For what reason would a designer do that? It is simply somebody's taste, and perhaps changes for changes sake to build up the cost.
I have a fantasy that if you go ahead with all that is proposed, that in the next ten or twenty years the next well-meaning board will come along and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. If I were still a tenant I would insist on bringing the contractor into the mix at this point to get a preliminary bid on the designs that have been proposed, as I think you will all be quite surprised, and I would hate for you all to get this bill after the renovation and have no idea what you are getting into now. I would give this to more than one contractor as I don't think it should be anybody that is proposed by SOJO, there is too much conflict of interest possible for that to take place. The contractor should be made to bid on what would be ADA compliant, rather than just putting a surface on top of what's there already with a step.
Finally, I read in one of your letters that SOJO was in contact with me relative to what they were doing. I should tell you that nobody from that firm ever talked to me. I stand ready to help in any way I can and if there are any further questions you need answered, don't hesitate to call me.
All my best,
Read more here: http://blogs.herald.com/scene_in_the_tropics/2014/03/a-former-miss-sweden-is-trying-to-get-the-go-ahead-to-redecorate-the-building-at-1500-ocean-drive-otherwise-known.html#storylink=cpy
· Of Graves Concern [Scene In The Tropics]