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Miami Modern Metropolis edited by Allan T Shulman

This is ‘feel good’ in the sense of having a nice time in a pretty place

A large and luscious book has arrived from Miami to tell us that the city’s architectural heritage is not all about Morris Lapidus and the glamorous Miami Beach hotels that established his reputation in the late 1940s and 1950s. And yet it turns out that in fact it is - for whenever the writers turn to other matters, another photograph of a Lapidus interior lurks over the page.

As well it might, because these buildings are powerful visually and tell a fascinating story. What Lapidus grasped, along perhaps with the contemporary designers of the Festival of Britain, was the importance of fashioning places that simply make you feel good to walk into.

This is ‘feel good’ in the sense of having a nice time, in a pretty place that flatters you to be there, and emphatically not in the puritanical, scrubbed-pine-and-vegetarian-restaurant sense of ‘doing the right thing’. Thus he designed hotel lobby staircases that led nowhere but which gave guests the feeling of being a Hollywood star as they descended.

Here are glittery lamps and screens, and bits and pieces, some Roman, some junk shop, and trellises and murals, all cleverly lit, that created uninhibited and enticing luxury interiors - an eclectic style amusingly described here by Greg Castillo as ‘shaken, but not stirred’.

It is the picture you want to walk into. In fact the Fontainebleau Hotel’s ‘real luxury modern French Provincial’ style had been forced on Lapidus by the hotel’s owner. Before then his approach had been ‘camp but clever Mendelsohn’, particularly well suited for shoe shops, but he could also do ‘camp but clever Mies’, a tongue-in-cheek style he pulled off for the lobby of the Miami Beach Crystal House apartments of 1960.

Between recurrent references to Lapidus there are interesting sections on other themes: the relationship between urban space and race relations in 1960s Miami; private houses, religious buildings and college campuses; and large-scale public planning schemes, which generally remained unexecuted, in contrast to private initiatives, such as the project by guess who that transformed Lincoln Road into a modern shopping mall.

There’s much more, too. This is a valuable compilation with many handsome contemporary photographs, gratifyingly aimed at enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Miami Modern Metropolis

Edited by Allan T Shulman

Publisher: Balcony Press, 2010

Price: £55

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