Although OMA first crafted proposals for several properties in Buenos Aires, focus soon shifted to a six-block, $1.2 billon development in Miami Beach that has since come to be known as the Faena District. This change of scenery introduced its own set of concerns. As Shigematsu notes, big beachside hotels are typically constructed as self-contained compounds that visitors rarely leave. Faena, however, wanted to create a neighborhood along high-traffic Collins Avenue. Though the district would be split by the road, with the hotel on the beach-facing half and the Forum on the other half, the developers wanted the area to feel like a cohesive whole.
To do so, OMA designed the Forum to serve as the heart of the neighborhood. Its circular footprint maximizes outdoor public space while also playing off the natural arc of the Faena Hotel across the street. “We saw the neighborhood almost like a Pangea—one single continent that got separated into different buildings, but with the Forum still claiming the center,” Shigematsu explains.
With a footprint in mind, the design had to be further refined. The building’s “forum” label offered a general guiding principle, but, as Shigematsu notes, “a forum is not even a building. It’s a kind of public square in the Roman period where people meet and where people discuss things. Encounters actually generate the content.” So, rather than designing a dedicated visual arts gallery or performance space or concert hall or boardroom, he was tasked with creating something that was, as he says, “all of the above.”
This mirrors a growing interest in flexible museum spaces that can accommodate new artistic mediums as well as an increasing focus on events and performances. “The role of museums is changing nowadays because of the diversification of art forms,” Shigematsu says. “More and more, I think the museum is becoming the focal point of diverse activities. It’s not just art galleries—almost half of museum programs nowadays are non-gallery spaces for education, engagement, and events.” The Whitney
’s new space in the Meatpacking District offers a prime example of this phenomenon, with its focus on space that can be easily adapted by artists trying to experiment and stretch the limits of their practice.
Shigematsu also ties this trend back to the proliferation of art world events, such as biennials and art fairs, “that are more engaging than static buildings,” he says. “Every year or two years, you have an activation of the whole city, not just a museum. So I think the role of art as social currency is changing to focus more on ephemeral, event-based ambitions that accommodate diverse needs.”
That’s particularly important in a city like Miami, where the art scene has only recently come into its own. Although it is understandably difficult to compete directly with the iconic, world-class museums of New York, the Faena Forum offers a different path to art world relevancy. “We are more and more experiencing this kind of commission where it’s not just a gallery,” Shigematsu explains. “Instead, it’s a very multifunctional space that has event capabilities beyond just art. You could say that the Forum enhanced that approach and made it into a new typology.”
Faena’s wife, Ximena Caminos, a former curator who serves as the Forum’s executive director, echoed those sentiments last year in an interview with the New York Times
. “Miami doesn’t need one more museum,” she said
. “It needs something different. The Forum is designed to be flexible. I compare it to a sports car. If you want to turn the wheel, you can.”