It was once was a pineapple farm. Then a rough, industrial neighborhood overlooking a furniture district. Today, the Miami Design District is emerging as an upscale shopping and art mecca.
The neighborhood is located just a few miles from downtown and South Beach. Its attractions include contemporary art installations, a parking garage that's an architectural head-turner, and storefront luxury shops from Hermes to Tom Ford, with a concentration of jewelry and timepiece brands.
"We're able to provide them with spaces that allow the brands to present the full range of their creative expression, from the architecture and design of their stores to the scope of their merchandise offering," said Craig Robins, a native Miami developer and CEO of the real estate company Dacra who is also credited with helping with the transformation of South Beach.
The Design District also becomes a major hub during Art Basel Miami in early December, when art takes over the city.
By the end of 2016, the 18-square-block neighborhood will include more than 200 retailers from Christian Dior and Rag & Bone to Van Cleef & Arpels, art galleries, design showrooms and restaurants, as well as a boutique hotel and luxury residential condos and lofts.
The late Buckminster Fuller designed the Fly's Eye Dome in 1965, calling it an "autonomous dwelling machine." His vision of a 24-foot fiberglass circular dome that could serve as a home has been brought to life at 140 NE 39th St. Overlooking the dome is a larger-than-life polyurethane foam-and-resin sculpture of the late architect Le Corbusier by the French artist Xavier Veihan.
Nearby are two murals created by the collaborative studio 2x4 including "Jungle," an homage to the urban landscape of South Florida, with bright colors, plants and animals painted on the wall; and "Vortex," which creates an optical illusion with its black and white circular strokes.
On a second-floor terrace is "Netscape," a 24-seat web of hanging chairs by German designer Konstanin Grcic.
A mixed-use retail building inspired by waterfalls and rain squalls by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto will be completed by 2016. The two-story building will feature glass fins extending from the rooftop down to the open courtyard.
A couple of blocks away is Miami's Institute of Contemporary Art at 4040 NE Second Ave. ___
GARAGES AS ART
Next to busy Interstate 95 is the City View Garage (enter on NE 38th Street between NE First Avenue and North Miami Avenue), its wavy gold- and titanium-coated steel panels shimmering against the Miami sun. On the north and south sides are murals by artist John Baldessari including a cinematic image of swimmers, beach ball and all.
Another garage (not yet completed) will be a seven-story mixed-use building with six different facades: a wall of recycled car tops; another of reflective traffic barriers repurposed as dynamic screens interspersed with flower boxes; a theatrical composition of graphic cartoon characters mixed with ornate baroque details; a corner panel of interlocking volumes that evoke puzzle pieces; a series of cut-outs dubbed "the ant farm" which exposes what is going on inside; and a painted mural of a candle being burned at both ends.
WHERE TO EAT
Dining choices include Michael's Genuine Food and Drink by chef Michael Schwartz and Michelle Bernstein's Crumb on Parchment. French chef Joel Robuchon will open three restaurants in the area in 2016.
The Design District is located between two neighborhoods, Wynwood/Buena Vista and Midtown heading toward the downtown Brickell area. NE Second Avenue is the main street running through the area; 40th Street and Second Avenue would be a good starting point for visitors.