Mexico City native Enrique Norten, one of the world’s most important architects, has four projects in the works in Miami.
His company, Ten Arquitectos, is the architect for The Related Group’s One Ocean; David Arditi‘s 321 Ocean; a mixed-use office building in the Design District for Asi Cymbal; and a residence in Bal Harbour.
In 1998, his Televisa mixed-use building in Mexico City earned the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Pavilion Award for Latin American Architecture. The firm also received the 2009 Institute Merit Design Award from the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter for the Xochimilco Master Plan and Aquarium, and a National 2009 Institute Honor Award For Regional And Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects for the Orange County Great Park.
Norten spoke to the Business Journal about Miami. The following has been edited for length and clarity:
SFBJ: Did you design buildings for clients during the last cycle?
Norten: When we were being called during the last cycle, things were crazy. People were coming in with all these irrational ideas that, at the time, didn’t seem irrational. We did some designs, but none of the buildings were built.
SFBJ: What is the Miami design aesthetic?
Norten: Every place where you work has its own identity and environment. Miami is becoming a national destination. For a long time, it’s had older people running away from the winter. That’s a good story, but it’s not that anymore. It has its own identity. Miami is beautiful. If you have a beautiful site, half of the work has been done for you.
SFBJ: Why is Miami important?
Norten: Many people ask me: What is the capital of Latin America? I say Miami. It’s right in the middle. It’s the financial capital of Latin America and the financial destination of a lot of fortunes made in Latin America.
SFBJ: Are there local architects, buildings, interiors that inspire you?
Norten: Miami has a base. It’s not like inventing Las Vegas out of nothing. When I drive around, I literally stop my car and it’s motivating. Chad Oppenheim has done really very good work. The history of Miami is rich. You have the Cuban immigrants, the people who left in the ’60s. They helped shape this community, and all the people that have come from Latin America have, too.
Miami has the best furniture and object stores in the U.S. You have Luminaire and Calligaris from Spain here. I work with them in every city.
SFBJ: What impact has art had on the industry?
Norten: Art Miami and Art Basel. What those events have done for Miami is phenomenal. It’s even bigger than the event in Switzerland where they started.
People always say, We can do this here like they did there. But anyone who wants to look like somebody else fails because each community has it’s own identity. A city doesnt happen overnight.
SFBJ: What is Miami’s place in the hemisphere today?
Norten: Miami is ripe. Very soon, Spanish is not going to be the first language spoken; it’s going to be Portuguese. The expansion of the airport, the expansion of the port all are very important. Miami has also gotten to the point where the people who work in the city are very sophisticated. They are colleagues, highly respected professionals. All of that, together, is very important.
SFBJ: What are the challenges?
Norten: There is still this thing that happens: ‘Yeah, it’s great, but don’t do it in my backyard. It’s great to be an urban place with great art and restaurants and galleries, but don’t build higher than three stories.’ In some areas, there is not equilibrium.
SFBJ: Is it harder or easier to design smaller buildings, which are common these days?
Norten: I personally appreciate living in smaller communities. I lived in New York City and had 40 apartments on the same floor. I hated coming onto such long hallways. Many of these apartments are vacation units. So, you end up in large buildings with no one there.
SFBJ: What are the things that make a good city?
Norten: Without the right density, public transportation doesn’t work. Or if you take the subway, but have to walk for hours after, it’s not working. You also can’t build miles and miles of subway because then you can’t develop the right density.
Whenever I come to Miami, I stay at The Standard on Miami Beach because I can walk around.