Dezeen and MINI World Tour: in the second part of our interview with Craig Robins, the Miami property developer explains how bringing back furniture showrooms was the catalyst for transforming the city's derelict Design District into the thriving luxury shopping destination it is today. Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.
After the successful redevelopment of South Beach in the 1980s and 1990s, Robins began acquiring properties in Miami’s historical Design District, an area so named because of the proliferation of furniture companies that congregated there in the 1920s.
"It became a centre for furniture design in Miami," Robins explains. "But by the mid-eighties, as places became more and more mallified in America, the Design District fell into disrepair."
Robins says the key to redeveloping the Design District was to encourage furniture companies away from the malls and back onto the streets.
"What we did initially was to bring back the furniture design," he says. "[American designer] Holly Hunt was one of our first tenants. That began the process and now you can walk around the Design District and see all the great furniture design."
In 2005, collectible design show Design Miami launched in the Design District. Architect Zaha Hadid was named Design Miami Designer of the Year and Robins commissioned her to create a sculpture called Elastika in the atrium of the Moore Building, one of the area's original 1920s furniture showrooms.
"Theodore Moore built the first furniture showroom in the neighbourhood in the 1920s," Robins says. "It’s still an unbelievable structure. Zaha Hadid was commissioned to do a really magnificent installation inside the historical space."
Other high-profile designers have left their mark on the Design District. Design Miami's 2006 Designer of the Year Marc Newson created a white, undulating fence for the neighbourhood's Design Architecture Senior High school (DASH).
Once the cultural and economic centre of the Design District was restored, Robins says it wasn't long before restaurants and galleries started to open too, which in turn helped him to lure other lucrative businesses to the area.
"We had a cultural presence," he says. "Restaurants were starting to open, galleries. It was then that I realised that the final ingredient to really catapult this neighbourhood into another level of creative offering would be if we could bring the fashion industry here."
Hermès, Céline and Christian Louboutin were some of the early brands to set up stores in the district, and others soon followed: "Louis Vouiton, Christian Dior, Prada," Robins lists. "I think we have a chance to be the most interesting neighbourhood in the world that has this balanced concentration of art, design, fashion and food."
He continues: "The idea of synergies is that they start feeding each other and that the sum of those parts becomes so much greater than the whole, there’s this explosion that happens. Of course, I don’t think one can ever be arrogant, and despite our success, we have a lot of work to do. The goal, though, is just to make [the Design District] a great place: a great place to shop; a great place to find furniture; a great place to just walk around."