Richard Meier In Miami: The Rebirth Of The Historic Surf Club

Alexandra Marvar Alexandra Marvar

A+ Lifetime Achievement WinnerRichard Meier has joined the list of high-profile architects leaving their mark in Miami with his first-ever project in the city: a massive addition to the historic Surf Club.

The Surf Club, an über-exclusive, high-society haven, opened New Year’s Eve 1930 on six acres of glorious oceanfront property at 90th and Collins Avenue. The invitation-only venue became a nexus for the most fabulous stars of era—from a series of shahs to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, from Frank Sinatra to Elizabeth Taylor. Winston Churchill stayed once for six months, painting seascapes from his private beach cabana. And during Prohibition, Cuban boats loaded with verboten cargo pulled right up onto the beach so the heroic management could tote rum right into the club.

In short, this was a glamorous place. And with this transformative renovation and Meier’s additions, it will open to the public for the first time, its long-lost luster restored … and then some.

Images courtesy of DBOX

A ternion of pristine towers will crown the original Mediterranean Revival building. Two 12-story condominiums (the maximum height permitted by Surfside zoning) will house 150 residential units, for which Meier has designed approximately 50 unique configurations. An ultra-luxury hotel will be housed in one of the residential towers and in the third smaller tower under the flag of the Four Seasons.

Condos will range in size from 1,200 to 8,000 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, up to 20-foot ceilings, and balconies of up to 12 feet deep. On the top floor, Meier has created 13 signature penthouses—one- or two-story homes that come replete with landscaped private roof terraces as well as a personal consultation with the architect on the unit’s post-purchase design and customization.

Meier’s signature is unmistakable; comparing the renderings to his other large-scale works in Tel Aviv, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and his Perry and Charles Street condominiums in New York City, an impeccable resemblance unifies them, despite their respective contexts.

Meier explained: “We think about the climate, and about different ways to shield the sun and make an outdoor space. But [the buildings] all have clear glass, they’re open and transparent, and when you’re living there, you sense the time, the change of seasons, the change of weather all around you. And the whiteness reflects the light around you and heightens your awareness of these changes all around you.”

Images courtesy of DBOX

These things transcend specific geographies. In other words, Meier’s repeated themes are based on his concern not just with local character, but with the overarching environmental experiences we relish as residents of Earth.

Of course, there will be a host of amenities here that most Earthlings couldn’t dream of. At least three ocean-front pools have appeared in the plans, and long, European gardens will flank the sand dunes. The original building, designed by Russell Pancoast, is an artifact of high-Mediterranean style, with grand beamed and vaulted ceilings, luxurious colonnades, and enormous fireplaces. Meier told Architizer that its function will be to provide supplemental amenities to the new towers—including its classic pool area and a grand ballroom. Its arched main passageway, known as Peacock Alley, will serve as a public route from the front of the building to the ocean side.

“The original building is in fairly good shape,” said Meier. “We’re trying to do as little with it as possible.”

Local architect Kobi Karp, whose firm is working with Meier, designed the first draft of plans for the new towers before Meier brought his star quality to the project. Karp is more concerned with the re-creation of the original building, down to murals and fixtures. The original details, according to Karp, were lifted from Pancoast’s original drawings, to the great satisfaction of local preservation officials. Plans including stripping away egregious later additions, of which there were plenty. “Every time the club got a new president, the president’s wife would suddenly become an interior designer,” said a Surf Club staff member in explanation of some of the interior additions and alterations that befell the structure—particularly in the perilous design eras of the 1970s and ‘80s.

photo via

Despite some ruffled feathers with some of the club’s 122 remaining owner-members over the sale and development of this declining, landmark property by a Turkish conglomerate, the project will leave the club inarguably improved. (Sidenote: Any ruffled feathers seem to have been smoothed with member lawsuit settlements of more than $700,000 each.)

Of the residences, Meier says, “Each apartment is a floor-through, so you have not only the relationship with the view to the Bay and ocean, but all that’s around you. It’s a really luxurious, open, transparent building.” The project has such promise that — rumor has it — he’s even bought a unit for himself… but he doesn’t intend to retire there. As he told Paul Goldberger in their conversation at 2013’s Design Miami, “I don’t plan to retire.”

Image courtesy of DBOX

For more Miami coverage, check out the scoop on Juergen Mayer’s bench and Formlessfinder’s pavilion.