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Before Nobu Eden Roc: Morris Lapidus and Miami Modern

By Rockwell Group

Last year Rockwell Group opened the restaurant and renovated lobby of the Nobu Hotel Eden Roc. In a few months, the rest of our renovations will debut. This is the second Nobu Hotel in the U.S. and it is located within Eden Roc Miami Beach, a landmark 1955 tower designed by prolific architect Morris Lapidus (1902-2001). Read on to learn more about Nobu Hotel Eden Roc's distinctive home and its place in the history of leisure and Miami Modern architecture.

The stretch of U.S. highway that runs the length of Florida's eastern coastline is simply called Collins Avenue, from Miami Beach north to Aventura. Named after oceanfront developer John Stiles Collins (1837-1928), it became home to millionaires' mansions in the 19th century and then Mediterranean Revival bungalows in the 1920s. That changed a decade after World War II, when developer Ben Novack set out to build the biggest and most luxurious hotel on Collins Avenue, The Fontainebleau. He tapped architect and interior design Morris Lapidus to realize his dream, kicking off a new generation of resort architecture and luxury apartment towers in Miami Beach.

Morris Lapidus holding a postcard featuring The Fontainebleau hotel, his first ground-up building.

Russian-born Lapidus grew up in Manhattan and attended Columbia University. He was a talented, sought-after designer, but had never built anything from the ground up before. The curving, 15-story, polarizing 1954 Fontainebleau made his reputation as a hotel architect.

Following the success of the Fontainebleau, Harry Mufson—a former colleague of Ben Novack-turned-competitor—purchased the site north of the Fontainebleau and asked Lapidus to design his second hotel. Instead of copying the Fontainebleau's curves, Lapidus gave the smaller 1955 Eden Roc Hotel subtle angles and cantilevered balconies. Lapidus would go on to contribute three more properties within a mile stretch of Collins Avenue, adding to a cluster of architectural icons on what would be called the "Billion Dollar Sandbar." These lavish hotels in turn influenced their apartment tower neighbors, all of them featuring luxurious amenities and dazzling lobbies and spas.

Guests entered the lobby through a vestibule that delayed the big reveal. The drum-shaped space reflected the luxury apartment buildings along the southern Florida coast.

"Get me plenty of glamour and make sure it screams luxury," said Mufson.


The lobby featured a bar, sunken lounge, windows facing the ocean, and a "stairway to nowhere" with zig-zag steps and a ribbon-like metal railing.

Lapidus had an interest in theater set design and retail planning, so he had a keen understanding of how people moved within space and reacted to their environment. He contributed to a very specific style of Post-War Modernism in Miami Beach, which mixed pizzaz with Art Deco, paired smooth and textured surfaces, and featured elements such as accordion-folded walls, brise soleil, and dynamic parabolas. Lapidus even added to architectural vocabulary with elements such as "cheese holes," woggles," and "beanpoles."

Lapidus: "I designed for the people of my time."


At left, a 1960s image of the Eden Roc Hotel entrance. Rockwell Group restored the original porte-cochere and extended it with a new fabric canopy.

"I'm just an architect who happened to be carried away by his emotions."

Morris Lapidus

For Nobu Hotel Eden Roc, Rockwell Group merged historic Miami Modern architecture with an inventive interpretation of Nobu Chef Matsuhisa's signature style. Layers of walnut, bronze, washi paper, linen, glass, and leather create a sumptuous, contemporary environment. Stay tuned!

Sources:

Morris Lapidus/Mid 20th Century Historic District Designation Report (PDF). Prepared by City of Miami Beach Planning Department, July 14, 2009.

Morris Lapidus, an Architect Who Built Flamboyance Into Hotels, Is Dead at 98, The New York Times

Buildings That Jump Up and Bite, The Forward

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