His Life's Work pix
Roberto Espejo has lived and breathed Cesar Pelli's performing-arts center in Miami
Beth Dunlop -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
The Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects senior associate.
Miami's Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, where the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House and the Knight Concert Hall share the skyline with the art deco Sears tower.
Artist José Bedia's etched-glass balustrades overlooking the lobby from the fourth tier of the ballet opera house.
His terrazzo floor in the lobby.
The concert hall's 2,200-seat theater. A Pelli signature, the concert hall's soaring atrium.
A marquee entry of brushed stainless steel. The atrium's 140-foot-high enclosure framed in painted aluminum.
A glass-tile mosaic by Cundo Bermudez in the lobby of the concert hall.
Installing the gold-painted acoustical "chandelier" in the opera house.
Its 2,500 seats and perforated metal proscenium arch wrapped in fabric.
|As a senior associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Roberto Espejo knows Miami's new $461 million Carnival Center for the Performing Arts like nobody else. That's because, as a Pelli employee back in 1994, he participated in the very first interviews of the selection process—which landed the firm on a short-list with Arquitectonica and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture. He eventually spent a full five years in Miami as a senior site representative for the marathon project, coordinating the 4,000 people who worked on it, including staff and subcontractors. Now that the center is finally open, he tells us what the experience was like, professionally and personally.
When did you begin working on the Carnival Center?
Just before the competition, I was made an associate of the firm and simultaneously diagnosed with second-phase Lyme Disease from a tick bite. This was by far the most physically and emotionally challenging year of my life, as I couldn't tell anyone I was sick—I worried that they would get someone else to go to Miami.
Pelli won the project on March 5, 1995, the birthday of my grandfather who had died about nine months earlier. When I called my mother to tell her the news, she wept on the phone.
You have Latin American roots.
My father emigrated from Mexico to Cuba and went to medical school there at the same time Fidel Castro was in law school. My mother is Cuban, and my parents met there and married. When my father told her they were moving to Peoria, Illinois, she thought it was a joke. Peor-ia translates into Spanish as Worse-ville. Going to Worse-ville for an internship in pathology!
Were you educated in the U.S.?
I went to the University of Illinois, where Cesar is an alum, and then straight to France to study at the Ecole d'Architecture de Versailles, which is also in Paris. That summer, I worked for Ricardo Bofill. When I graduated in 1985, Cesar was on my thesis review committee.
Is that how you got your first job?
What happened when you were assigned to the performing-arts center project?
I found the perfect tenant to watch my house in Connecticut while I traveled between Miami and Mexico City. Then I fell in love and married her. The first time Meg had attended my annual Memorial Day pig roast, I'd introduced her as my roommate. The next year, she was my fiancée. The following year, she appeared as my wife. We moved to Miami about a year after returning from our honeymoon.
After one week of unpacking, during our first Saturday night dinner with wine and candles and more wine, Meg found out she was pregnant. It was the day before construction officially started. So the building and my son, Sebastian, are exactly the same age.
Almost a year later, after lots of coordination nightmares, we finally received our first piece of steel for the building. We erected it on the same weekend that Sebastian got up and took his first step. They both got their legs at exactly the same time.
The comparisons don't stop there, do they?
Within minutes of finding out about the building's first potential structural acoustics problem, I received a call from home that Sebastian had fallen and busted his lip. After rushing home to find my smiling son licking a Popsicle, then returning to the site to find a solution already in the hands of the consultant team, I realized that the first of these incidents was obviously not going to be the last. The lesson: Life goes on, and we just have to make things better.
Later, after months of arguments, Dade County developed a "moving forward" plan. The morning of the luncheon to announce and celebrate the launch of this strategy, my wife told me that we were going to have a daughter. So Rubi is exactly the same age as this new stage of the process.
I could go on and on, but the most eerie thing happened recently when I was leaving home to pick up Cesar for the building's opening gala. I watched as my beautiful wife, Sebastian, and Rubi waved from the driveway, and I realized that my first interview with Cesar was exactly 12 years ago on that day.
What has been the greatest joy of the project?
To see a Pelli Clarke Pelli design—the work of Cesar, Fred, Mitch, and our very talented team—all the way through from the very beginning to a successful completion. It's almost a dream to think that we can be sitting there, watching a performance by Gloria Estefan.
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