The founder of the London Motor Museum, Elo — too cool to have a surname — took his father at his word when he said: “Where you see cranes, that’s where you go.” So, when he went to Miami in 2014 and was “amazed by the number of condos rising up”, he simply packed up and moved there. And it’s here, in this “sexy location” that the museum director turned restaurateur would open the Miami Supercar Rooms, a kind of cabana for exotic four-wheeled dining. “It’s insane here,” he enthuses. “It’s exploding. Pound for pound, it’s the hottest investment city in the US. It’s the New World global capital, from architecture to design to the culinary scene.” And come 2021, Aston Martin will be joining the scene with its first real estate project, Aston Martin Residences Miami, a 66-storey tower set to be built on a 1.25 acre site acquired two years ago for a record-breaking $125m.

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Incomplete Open Cubes

That’s not the only sign of Miami’s sudden rude health. As Elo puts it: “The Chinese are here, because someone wisely decided to open a direct route from Beijing. The Germans are here. Even the Russians are here...” Indeed, one estimate has it that 90% of the purchases of new condos are by foreign buyers. And small wonder. The climate helps, of course: it’s why Art Basel chose the city for a winter show. But so does a virtuous circle currently at play. 

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1974, Sol LeWitt; special film screening of Maura Axelrod’s 2016 documentary Maurizio Cattelan

Miami has seen any number of high-profile architectural projects over recent years, each encouraging the next: Norman Foster’s Faena House, OMA’s Coconut Grove, Herzog & de Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage, alongside buildings from the likes of Bjarke Ingels, Richard Meier, Sou Fujimoto and Studio Gang. It’s happening inside as well as out, too — there’s the former Saxony Hotel, reimagined thanks to interior design by film director Baz Luhrmann; or Ironside, with interiors by Ron Arad; American architectural firm Aranda\Lasch is working on a building that already has permanent installations by a veritable Who’s Who of designers — Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic and the late Zaha Hadid.

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Be Right Back; Dominique Lévy booth at Art Basel

The boom has had a positive knock-on effect for the highbrow as much as the high prices, with residential buildings leading in turn to yet more big names in architecture designing new but nationally important institutions, such as the Pérez Art Museum, New World Center (Frank Gehry) and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science (Grimshaw), opening this spring.

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The Frederic Snitzer Gallery booth at Art Basel

But Miami’s renaissance as a design hotspot — out on a peninsular, yet widely dubbed the gateway to the rising economies of South America — goes deeper. While Art Basel has clearly been crucial to that change over the past 15 years, it’s also come out of a timely confluence of construction — a market ready for a kind of mass gentrification; cash — demonstrated by Miami Supercar Rooms’ nightly parade of proud supercar owners; and cool — both historical, with its neon-lit, pastel-shaded beach life, and new-found, as the “alternative” alternative to LA and NYC.

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South Beach; Mirage, 2016, by Jean-Marie Appriou explores illusion, with each camel standing on top of its own distorted reflection

“Miami was really ripe for the picking,” says Suzie Sponder of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, the organisation tasked with putting Miami on the map. “I was born and raised here and there was always a kind of void for construction, mostly in the long-overlooked downtown and other urban areas. Crucially, there was room for it. At 120 years old, Miami is a relatively young city. And what’s interesting is that a number of key developers have proved to be as visionary as the art community.”

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Art deco details on Ocean Drive

Among these might be included Tony Goldman, Ofer Mizrahi and George Pérez — the man behind the museum; or Craig Robins, who has shaped the Miami Design District’s collection of highbrow retail and restaurants and who has been revitalising and restoring the art deco buildings on South Beach since the 1980s. He’s also the founder of the city’s Design Miami collectors’ fair.

Not only have they ploughed mega-bucks into Miami, these developers have actively encouraged bold new architecture — reviving an attitude that has defined the city for decades, given its role at the epicentre of American art deco and then Miami modern. But, importantly, while many developers would be tempted to give free rein to these architectural powerhouses, Miami’s have imposed restrictions by insisting their architects take the unusual step of not just building flashy towers that could go up in any city, but designing more contextually to suit Miami’s mood and lifestyle as well.

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These developers have also been fleet of foot in the way they’ve managed their properties: when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, residential developments were quickly re-purposed as rentals, encouraging the influx of a younger, often creative demographic that has fuelled the design scene. “It’s become a little New York for them,” Sponder says. “Miami has always brought in visitors from the North East, but more have become residents. And they’ve not only invested in Miami’s new businesses and culture, they’ve come with that big city thinking that can quickly transform a place.”

Of course, there are still problems — the city’s transport infrastructure needs overhauling to keep up with the pace of change and not all progress has been beneficial, especially to drivers. “But the situation here is that you either embrace the change or you move out,” Sponder says. “And most people are excited to be part of all the culture of a New Miami.”

Take Melkan Gürsel, for example. She’s a partner in the multi-award-winning Turkish architectural practice Tabanlioglu Architects — which has inevitably found work in the city — and owner, too, of Galerist, Istanbul’s leading art gallery. Although the company this year opened a New York office, it’s in Miami that, says Gursel, you can feel the heat of progress.

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The launch of the DB11 in Miami Beach

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“Miami has become this giant showcase — for art, design, culture — that we thought we just had to be involved with,” says Gursel. “It’s been amazing to see a variety of developments and events that have come on to reinvent the city as a hub that I’d say was now comparable to London or Milan as a place with its own distinctive kind of cultural exchange. And that’s not just for anyone into design, but for anyone into culture at all.”

Aston Martin Residences at 300 Biscayne Boulevard Way Sales office: 1200 Brickell Avenue, Suite 1660, Miami, FL, 33131

Tel: +1 305 988 074

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