The mark of a brilliant businessman is his ability to anticipate significant shifts in circumstances as or before they occur. In this respect, Miami-based developer Craig Robins is a veritable superhero. Known for taking down-and-out sections of his home city and reshaping them into vibrant destinations, he first helped to steer South Beach’s revival then turned his attention to a swath of the mainland known as the Buena Vista neighborhood—taking it from blight to a city highlight. “In the United States, design was only available in decorator malls where people weren’t allowed without licensed professionals,” explains the CEO of Dacra, which owns more than 80% of the Miami Design District, as the neighborhood is now called. “I felt that this was just wrong.”
Robins set to work luring some of the world’s top design showrooms to the 18-square-block grid of streets, but before long, he noticed something was lacking. Though the string of well-heeled businesses drew design devotees to the District’s streets during the day, the neighborhood grew quiet once the showrooms closed in the evenings. Robins set his sights on drawing edgy fashion houses, art aficionados and gastronomic heavy weights to the area to make it a scene for fashionistas, art lovers and foodies alike.
A Developer with Great Vision
He began to see the Design District as a laboratory for creativity. “I knew it could emerge as a special place,” he says, “but to make it so, we needed to have art and design side-by-side with food and fashion.” This attitude has birthed an area of iconic significance—from plazas that hold some of the city’s hottest al fresco dining choices to a handful of design’s and architecture’s superstars leaving their mark on Miami that include a Zaha Hadid sculpture in the Moore Building, a Marc Newson gate at the Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH) and Jose Bedia’s public art.
The energy reaches a fever pitch during the first week of December every year when Design Miami/, a sister fair to Art Basel Miami Beach focusing on design rather than art, comes to town. Robins is one of the organizers of the fair, helping to select a “Designer of the Year” each year, and commissioning substantive works that are left behind, like Hadid’s dynamic sculpture and Newson’s undulant gate at DASH. His encore this year was to bring one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes to the nabe, creating a permanent installation with a 24” Fly’s Eye Dome that he restored and exhibiting it during the fair with Fuller’s Dymaxion Car, which was recreated and loaned to Robins by the lauded British architect Lord Norman Foster—the two seen together for the first time since the early 1980s.
Montblanc Honors Craig Robins
Given the trajectory of Craig Robins’ achievements, it comes as no surprise he was honored with the Montblanc de la Culture Arts Patronage Award last week—the 20th anniversary of the sought-after prize, which was also given to 12 others this year, including Yoko Ono, The Prince of Wales, Her Majesty Queen Sofia and Liao Chang Yong. I always enjoyed interviewing the developer/patron during my years as a journalist in Miami because his level of curiosity, which propels him around the globe to glean inspiration and foster avant-garde ideas, is inspiring. “We’re building a sense of community in the neighborhood that includes art, design, architecture, fashion and food,” he says. “Being able to travel extensively and bring globally-inspired ideas to Miami is one of the most enjoyable things about what I do. This is a creative world I’m navigating through and I’m meeting brilliant people along the way that truly inspire me.”
I’ve come across very few people who speak passionately about design and art, and Robins is one of these. Congratulations to you, Craig: the honor is well deserved!
If you want to see a remarkable Instagram feed filled with design trends, follow Craig Robins.
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