by Eric Newill
As Miami continues its inexorable—and, to some old-timers, surprising—rise as an international cultural capital, new faces and fresh powers are providing the stimulus. However, none among them has gained as much recent buzz as Alan Faena, the Argentine visionary who is remaking a swath of Miami Beach into his own fantastical fiefdom.
Spread over an eight-block nugget nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Creek, and serving as a bridge between South Beach and the mid-century resorts of Mid Beach, the modestly named Faena District encompasses a super-luxe trio of hotel, condo and arts buildings calculated to attract the sleek, the hip and the flush.
At 52, Faena looks like a cosmopolitan Santero, stylishly theatrical and conspicuous in white. Born in Buenos Aires, he achieved success as a fashion designer in the 1980s before selling his company, Via Vai, and embarking on a meteoric real estate career. He reached international fame when he transformed Puerto Madero, the dilapidated warehouse district of his native city, into a center of luxury, culture and astonishing contemporary architecture. Today, it is considered the capital’s most valuable real estate.
Seeking to replicate his triumph on an arguably bigger platform—Miami and the United States—Faena enlisted the firms of Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster and William Sofield to create a series of bold visions on the water. Occupying the entirely gutted interior of the 1948 Saxony, the hotel is an orgasm of opulence, with whimsical interiors conceptualized by the film director Baz Luhrmann and his wife, Catherine Martin. The lobby is dubbed a “cathedral,” highlighted by gold leaf columns and eight gargantuan murals by the Argentine artist Juan Gatti. Faena likens the space to the Sistine Chapel. Amidst the animal prints and acres of red are artistic divertissements by the likes of Damien Hirst, such as a nine-foot woolly mammoth skeleton entitled Gone but Not Forgotten.
Across Collins Avenue, the Koolhaas-designed Faena Forum is conceived as a nexus for the fine and performing arts. Overseen by Faena’s companion (and the mother of their son), Ximena Caminos, the Forum will present not only fine art exhibitions but also dance, lectures and theatrical performances, the latter a particular passion of the developer’s. As he romantically told W, “I come from the world of dreams. I come from the world of creation. I come from the world of turning darkness into light.”
The beachfront Faena House residence, whose geometric curves come courtesy of Foster + Partners, made news recently for breaking Dade County’s price record, when its eight-bedroom penthouse sold for $60 million to the hedge funder Kenneth Griffin. Mr. Griffin reportedly rakes in $68 million a month, so the purchase should not be a hardship for him. (Meanwhile, a second penthouse went for the relative bargain of $29 million.)
All this neighborhood building doesn’t come cheap, and the Miami project is said to have a price tag of $1 billion. In this, as in Buenos Aires, Faena is bankrolled by the Odessa-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, who made his fortune in Russian oil. Today, he is considered Britain’s wealthiest resident, with a net worth of $21 billion. In addition to his investments with Faena, Blavatnik is also the owner of Warner Music, which he bought in 2011 for $3.3 billion. It is said that Blavatnik first proposed the concept of Miami to his partner, considering it a city of the future with tremendous potential.
One fact not in dispute is that Miami has indeed shed its seasonal nature and is now a year-round pit stop for the global set. Reflecting this reality, Faena’s hotel rooms will not drop from their starting price of $745 a night, meaning that guests sweltering in August will not receive the usual summer discount. But money, of course, is not the point. As Faena told The Miami Herald, “Miami was always about fantasy. We are trying to bring back that glorious moment of fantasy and glamour, but to create it in a modern way. I want people to feel proud.” Alan Faena certainly does.