Drive-by Architecture

"Architecture reflects the way humans live in different time periods. The time for this building expired." Architect Norman Giller is dryly referring to the former eight-story Singapore hotel in Bal Harbour, which he designed and which was recently torn down in favor of a towering new condominium development.

Still vital at 70-something years old, Giller, dapper in gray trousers and a burgundy blazer, talks into a microphone while standing at the front of a bus zooming north on Collins Avenue. He is about two hours into a three-hour exploration of structures -- houses, office buildings, hotels, motels -- that he designed all over Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach. (His firm, which now includes his son Ira, also renovated the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum.)

Nearly 35 people ranging in age from a nine-month-old baby boy bouncing on his father's knee to teenagers to senior citizens fill the brown plastic seats. They are enjoying the fourth in a series of five tours called This Is MiMo, cosponsored by the Miami Design Preservation League, the Miami Beach Development Corporation, and the North Beach Development Corporation in conjunction with the recent Miami Modernism fair. Past tours featured the work of architect Igor Polevitsky and the buildings of North Beach, Surfside, Bay Harbor Islands, and Bal Harbour. The series ends this Saturday with a look at designs by controversial architect Morris Lapidus.

"We'll be highlighting the highlights: the Eden Roc and the Fontainebleau," says Randall Robinson, Jr., a planner with the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation who will lead the Lapidus tour. "Plus we'll be taking a look at a lot of things that most people don't know he did; for example, the two private homes, which are the only two homes he ever designed."

Unlike the civic-minded Giller, who spent his 55-year career in Miami Beach (he also designed the Carillon Hotel and the Thunderbird and Fountainhead motels) and began the city's design review board, the flamboyant Lapidus made his mark first as a department-store designer in New York City and then enjoyed a second career as an architect on Miami Beach.

"Giller is pure Miami Beach from beginning to end. Lapidus was all about having fun and escapism," Robinson says. "I hope people have an enjoyable afternoon on the tour and come away with a new pride in Miami Beach and its outstanding architecture."

Spencer Tolley, director of preservation programs for the MDPL, concurs: "We're interested in educating people as to the historic and architectural significance of all areas of Miami Beach." As for Lapidus? "He's fabulous, just fabulous!"

-- Nina Korman

MiMo's guided bus tour of buildings designed by architect Morris Lapidus takes place at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, February 20. Meet at the corner of 44th Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach. Admission is $10 for MDPL members and $20 for nonmembers. Space is limited; call 305-672-2014 for reservations.

 
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