Multiuse and Multimedia
Beth Dunlop -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
When Ella Fontanals Cisneros, a Venezuelan philanthropist devoted to supporting emerging visual and performing artists, decided to found Mi- ami Art Central, she could have turned to local architectural talent. So why did she set her sights on distant Italy? First, because summers spent in Naples had made her an aficionado of Italian design. More specifically, because that same time away had led to a friendship with the principal of Fiorentino Architettura. Alessandro Fiorentino had never completed a project in the U.S., but Cisneros was familiar with his Museobottega della Tarsialignea, a 1700's Sorrento building that showcases a collection of 19th-century furniture and objects.
Her new museum shares a 1945 Southern Bell telephone building in suburban South Miami with the office of EFC Holdings, her luxury real-estate investment business. And the exterior of the two-story, 38,000-square-foot structure now offers a perfect metaphor for the dual functions inside.
Fiorentino kept the faintly classical front facade essentially as is, he explains, to preserve the "rhythm of the existing openings" and adhere to the conventions of the business world. However, the double entry doors—painted a blazing red—give a hint of what lies around the corner.
One side elevation and the rear facade, where MAC's entry is, are painted completely red. "It gives the impression that something daring is going on behind the walls," says Fiorentino. This windowless expanse is further defined by 5-foot-tall steel signage and a dramatically black-painted steel emergency staircase that climbs to the roof. "Usually purely functional, the stair becomes a strong element of communication," says the architect.
Inside, he built a main steel staircase, a smaller adaptation of the one outside. This one winds around the elevator shaft— a "now-you-see-it-now-you-don't" approach, says Fiorentino—as it connects MAC's part of the ground level to the upstairs, entirely devoted to MAC's largest gallery. On both levels, he restored the industrial spirit of the space by opening it up and exposing the rugged bones of the building: squared-off structural columns, pipes, ductwork, etc. He also retained the original steel-framed windows. The concrete floor, buried under carpet and tile, he simply sanded and sealed.
The front half of the ground level houses EFC Holdings. Open work areas, defined by partitions of glass and steel, accommodate a support staff of 20. A hallway paneled in walnut veneer leads to a conference room and three executive offices, including one for Cisneros.
MAC's first- and second-floor galleries are spare and flexible, equipped with a combination of fluorescents and halogen spots that curators can move and adjust as installations change. In addition to showcasing Latin American contemporary art, the museum's range extends to international video art and German sculpture. "How Do We Want To Be Governed" will be on display in December, when international collectors descend in droves for Art Basel Miami Beach.