While Allan Shulman may not be from Miami, his architecture firm Shulman + Associates is helping redefine our local vernacular. Many of his projects balance contemporary style with the need to celebrate the history of South Florida’s historic homes and buildings. He is a dynamic, passionate, and dedicated force in our community, and has been able to merge his love for architecture with his desire to support local organizations and visual artists.
Fortunately, Allan was able to take some time and offer our readers insight into his unique and fast-paced world. We’re sure you’ll enjoy, and you’ll want to learn more about his work. Check out some past projects by visiting his website.
You’re an author, editor, lecturer, curator, and an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, how do you find time to also work on so many great projects?
It’s not really a question of finding time. I love my work, and each area of focus informs the other. It is a model of being an architect that I believe in, although it definitely requires a lot of time, energy and planning. It helps that we (my wife and partner Rebecca Stanier-Shulman) have a fantastic team of people in the office.
You have been very involved in preservation projects in Miami Beach and Miami, as an architect, why is saving historic properties so important to you?
It’s not the saving per se that is important to me. It’s the idea that a city can evolve around and include its built heritage. Buildings are a record of urban culture, they comprise the DNA of a city; they also represent a layer of its history. As an architect, I feel a certain respect for this. Also, I care a lot about the resources, creative and physical, that go into making buildings. Not everything should be preserved, but this idea of layering and transforming can be very interesting. Nowhere exemplifies this better than the historic districts of Miami Beach, particularly the Architectural District that encompasses South Beach… small bungalows from the city’s first years, Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco and Postwar Modern layers are all there. I take a serious approach to restoration work, but am also very enthusiastic about adding a contemporary layer to the mix.
You’ve really developed a reputation for your connection to the cultural community. How would you suggest people get involved with arts organizations?
There are so many opportunities here to be involved. One of the great things about Miami is that many arts groups are young, open and they welcome engagement. From there, I think it is important to follow one’s passion. Luckily for me, the overlap between the art and architectural world in Miami is rich. Somehow we have become involved in that overlap, working for organizations like ArtCenter South Florida, Bakehouse Art Complex and the Rubell Family Collection, along with work for a number of private collectors. Similarly, our work on the new Miami Center for Architecture and Design downtown was a way to get involved in promoting discussion about architecture.
How old were you when you first took an interest in architecture and design?
I was probably five or six when I realized I was interested in buildings. I just started drawing and luckily my parents picked up on it and nurtured my interest, although neither of them was an architect. I was lucky to have experienced a number of great buildings as a kid. A good environment can really inspire!
Where do you find inspiration? What architects or designers have had the biggest influence on your work?
I read a lot and am aware of the work of both historical and contemporary figures. Asked to name them, though, I find it hard. I think the largest influences on my work came from my education, at both Cornell and University of Miami.
You aren’t from Miami originally, what’s your connection to South Florida?
I was born in Rochester, New York and I lived in a few different places in the US and Europe before landing here. In high school, I moved to Fort Lauderdale, and always thought I would eventually come back to South Florida. The opportunity presented itself in 1991, when I returned to do my master’s at the University of Miami. The timing was great; just when I finished the following year things were getting interesting here, so I just stayed. I began an extensive research project on the building culture of Miami Beach, and this led to some publications and some professional engagements; I became hooked. The ability of Miami to change and transform is truly astonishing. Since it is this very quality that interests me, the promise of more change is what keeps me.
What makes someone an ideal client? Of all the many projects you’ve worked on, which was your favorite?
I love best to work on projects that have an inherent challenge. I want our work to be relevant… An ideal client has the desire to do something transformative, is bold enough to be a part of the process, and one who has the resources and trust to let you synthesize it in design and then achieve it. The ability to articulate his or her needs from a programming standpoint is a strong plus. Truly, I don’t have a favorite project.
What is your favorite indulgence?
As much as I love cities, my true pleasure is to just get off the grid. I have a need for wilderness, and really enjoy hiking and biking. And we like to eat well. That’s about it.
Working as much as you do, what do you do to unwind?
I really don’t unwind. I am ambitious with my schedule. I try to concentrate unwinding time during vacation time.
What music are you listening to now? Anything embarrassing on your playlist?
My entire playlist is embarrassing. I have eclectic taste. My favorite radio station used to mix genres – classical, jazz, rock, R&B, alternative. So I use ‘shuffle’ a lot.
Your offices are located in the Miami Design District. What does the neighborhood mean to you? Why MDD instead of Miami Beach?
We are so engaged on the Beach (physically and mentally), but I like living and working on the Miami side. When I founded our office, we were based in the Ingraham Building downtown, and then moved to Edgewater. We came to the Design District about 10 years ago, and loved the vibe. We are in a storefront, so we are really a part of what goes on around us, and it has been an incredible evolution. I like the accessibility and strangely enjoy the feeling of being tucked right under the I-195 overpass. When we moved in it was pretty peaceful – there was that little palm grove across the street. Over the years there has been the Design Miami tent there, and several installations, including the fantastical FriendsWithYou one. We have really embraced the district, and have tried to contribute as well: for the past 4 years we’ve asked Miami-based artists to do site specific installations on the façade of our building – Jessy Nite, Steve Butler, Steve Saiz and Alejandro Vigilante. We hold a big party at Art Basel time. It is easy to feel at the center of things. Over the past 18 months, of course, our neighborhood has been under construction. As someone who loves to see an urban district emerge, it has been fascinating.
Photo credit: Justin Namon