How a small dinner for out-of-towners could elevate Miami
Written by Michael Lewis on May 19, 2015
A sea change might have washed over Miami last week, seen by few but destined to alter our psyche and image as only a handful of events ever do.
That’s a very tall order for a single dinner at a mid-size venue on Miami Beach for mostly out-of-towners.
Yet the awarding of the globally recognized Pritzker Architecture Prize at the New World Center in Miami Beach, an event of global impact, could still raise Miami’s perceived, and actual, cultural level.
Did events surrounding the presentation actually achieve that? We won’t know for a decade or two.
But surely the level of humanistic discourse that the prize dinner and related events brought to Miami was above not only what Miami is accustomed to, but what most of the globe can offer.
Some who heard Pritzker Prize jury Chairman Lord Peter Palumbo of London speak of the prize laureate, the late Frei Otto, called his remarks as artfully crafted and thoughtful as any they had heard.
The 37th Pritzker prize was juried by nine experts from eight nations. The lone US member was US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The prize established by the Hyatt Foundation honors an architect demonstrating “consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”
But it was not the dinner, not the programs, not the though, not even the many previous Pritzker Prize winners attending or the hundreds of influential persons who flew to Miami to attend that constitute the impact on Miami’s future.
The dinner, after all, is over. Programs are ephemeral. Visitors go home – though in Miami they tend to return, sometimes permanently.
No, the pivotal impact was the choice of the New World Center and especially Greater Miami itself as a setting for the awarding of the prize.
That was the architectural equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Over the years, the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize has been awarded in locations around the globe of architectural significance, magnet sites that global scholars, architects and leaders will find attractive. Last year it was in Amsterdam, in 2012 Beijing, in 2009 Buenos Aires.
“The presentation ceremonies move around the world each year, paying homage to the architecture of other eras and/or works by previous laureates of the prize,” says the Pritzker Prize website. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine noted in welcoming remarks that 10 of the prior 37 recipients had created structures in Greater Miami.
In other words, the prize confers also on Miami the distinction of not only a chosen place for the globally connected but one of high architectural significance and a keen level of culture.
Thirty-five years ago, Miamians often dismissed our community as a cultural wasteland. Since then, we’ve added the Miami City Ballet, the New World Symphony, the Miami Symphony, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and more – not to mention Art Basel Miami Beach. But if the specter of that wasteland image lingered, the Pritzker Prize visit put a nail in its coffin.
Can a seminal occurrence alter Miami for the better? Certainly disasters such as Hurricane Andrew wreak long-lasting havoc and leave longer-lasting scars. But what catalysts have moved us forward?
Our culture – and, by extension, our economy – enjoyed long-lasting gains from disparate decisions. Jackie Gleason moved his television show to Miami Beach. Miami Vice was filmed here. The Art Deco area was restored. Arquitectonica buildings altered a strip of Brickell and changed Miami’s visual image. Art Basel added a week of events that eclipsed its parent. Perhaps Brickell City Centre and a rejuvenated Miami Design District fit in that group – but like the Pritzker Prize’s presence, it’s far too early to know.
Can sports bring watershed change? Except possibly for a global tennis tournament on Key Biscayne they really don’t. A perfect Dolphins team was heartening – but sea change approaches permanence and on-field victories are fleeting. A championship Miami Heat changed. Its impact will fluctuate with victories but doesn’t last.
A sea change not only alters reality but creates a new state of mind. Perception becomes reality, and the new perception, both in Greater Miami and globally, creates the better community just as surely as would a 25,000-job high-paying corporate influx.
To assess the Pritzker Prize as a catalyst, consider how far knowledge of it will spread among global thought leaders and how long the impression of a single weekend will remain burned into our brains.
Remember the puzzler: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
So, if the Pritzker Architecture Prize picks Miami from all of the globe as a significant and welcoming locale for an event at the highest cultural level, who must hear that story and recognize its importance before the impact becomes real?
In a decade or so we’ll know whether anyone heard the architectural forest shake.