On the Creative Edge Retailer Puts Stock in Odd Facades
By Helen L. Kohen
Special To The Herald
The Miami Herald
Sunday Nov 25th, 1979
SITE, the New York-based multidisciplinary art and architecture organization, has recently completed two structures in the Miami area. Both buildings (plus a score of others, equally outlandish in concept) were commissioned by Best Products Co. Inc., a retail firm committed to housing their standard catalog-showroom business behind uncommon facades. As latter-day Medicis, that corporate entity has managed to attract attention not only for its patronage of living artists, but for what is slowly happening to the face of your common, ordinary, ugly suburban shopping area. For that particular uplift, SITE has been on the creative edge.
Building from a theoretical basis composed of ideas gleaned from the critical “painted word,” art historical scholarship and Dada musing, and working those ideas through their own heightened sensibility to the built environment, the four principals of SITE (Emilio Souse, Alison Sky, Michele Stone, and James Wines) design their architectural projects as confrontations. In sight of Fragmented Facade (19600 S. Dixie Highway, Cutler Ridge), or Aquarium Showroom (5301 W. 20th Ave., Hialeah), the casual bystander is immediately involved in some kind of dialogue
AS THE SITE folk say (and they speak with four tongues, in a composite way), “The public is obliged to connect.” They continue, articulating their personal credo: “Architecture is our subject, not our object.” They aim for all those human reactions that fine art—including architecture—should effect. Humor, irony, and contradiction constitute the current colloquy, but like all conceptual art, theirs has meaning beyond what is visualized as a finished work of art.
There is the facadism itself. They know we believe in that, that “it’s what’s up front that counts.” It is all we tend to see and therefore all we experience. By fragmenting that facade (as in the Cutler Ridge project), so that it exists in four parts which together make a whole, we have to deal with other questions: Do you open a door when you know it leads to nothing except the general direction of a real door? The psychological factor, that of “making an entrance,” is involved, as is the physical sense of feeling oneself inside a surreal landscape.
THE SITES FOR these SITE projects are not surreal, or even distinctive, at the start. Asphalt, building brick and cars are the common ingredients, so the up-ended terrarium which is the Hialeah facade comes as a shock. It comments on what we have destroyed to create the usual shopping plaza, while at the same time it re-creates that natural environment in an eccentric form. Water constantly bathes the encapsulated plant life, producing a moving and misty view, much like that experienced when driving through unspoiled Florida.
The theme of “nature taking back its own territory” figures in other SITE projects which can be viewed in architectural renderings, photographs, original drawings and models at Virginia Miller Galleries (3112 Commodore Plaza, Coconut Grove). This documentary exhibit will also introduce, through the print media, a matrix of philosophical materials integral to the SITE concept. The show is interesting on its own, and an important adjunct to experiencing the buildings themselves. See them all.